Dymir Montague (above) and Neumann-Goretti beat Archbishop Wood on Friday night. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Rich Flanagan (@richflanagan33)
PHILADELPHIA-When Archbishop Wood and Neumann-Goretti last met, Collin Gillespie was leading the Vikings to their first-ever Philadelphia Catholic League title on the floor of the Palestra while Quade Green and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree were walking off with a disheartened look on their faces as they attempted to refocus for the state playoffs. Each team went on to win state titles as well: Wood in Class 5A and the Saints in 3A.
While Gillespie and Cosby-Roundtree were in attendance for the next chapter in this Philadelphia Catholic League rivalry on Friday night, they each have taken their talents to the Main Line as members of the Villanova Wildcats and Green, a McDonald’s All-American, ventured to Kentucky. There are still plenty of players on each team’s roster who can recall that PCL title game but it’s a new season. Neumann-Goretti head coach Carl Arrigale brought it up, but only to get his team primed for the second half.
“I’m sure the kids knew it but it had no bearing on tonight’s game,” Arrigale said. “I told them about it at halftime when we had the lead that we also had a lead in that game so we had to come out and get a stop right off the bat. That’s about as much as we talked about it.”
Behind 14 points apiece from seniors Dymir Montague and Noah Warren and 10 from forward Marcus Littles, Neumann-Goretti escaped its contest with Archbishop Wood, 56-52 to remain undefeated in the PCL. For the Saints' senior class, it was an impressive outing, particularly for Montague, the team’s sixth man last year. He hit two of the Saints five three-pointers in the opening half and helped the team build a 33-19 advantage with under three minutes left to play before the break.
Montague, who also added five rebounds and a steal, has seen his role increase this season playing in a backcourt alongside Warren and Chris Ings (seven points).
“From the jump, [Noah and Chris] were on me, saying how much they were going to need me as a leader and keep everybody’s head straight,” Montague said..” They do help me throughout the game when my shot isn’t falling and keep my head up. I do the same for them.”
Neumann-Goretti (12-3, 7-0 Philadelphia Catholic League) went through Littles early and often in that first half. He set the tempo, scoring six points in the first quarter on two jump hooks and a jumper from the elbow. Playing against the length of 6-11 center Seth Pinkney, the George Washington commit used his big frame to get inside position on the Archbishop Wood big man and convert on the inside. While Arrigale was adamant on not having his players focus on last season’s title game, Littles said that loss had a lasting effect for himself.
“They took something from us that we can’t get back,” Littles said. We wanted it since the season started and we felt the pain they gave us last year.”
The Vikings looked a step behind defensively in that opening half and offensively seniors Andrew Funk and Tyree Pickron, both key contributors to the 2016-17 PCL title team, were leading the way. Pickron led Archbishop Wood (7-7, 4-3) with 19 points and Funk added 14 including two treys. The dynamic backcourt combined for 21 points in the first half as their team trailed 35-29 heading into the locker room.
Arrigale’s speech about getting a defensive stop must have resonated because the Saints did not allow a basket for the first four minutes of the third quarter and extended their lead back to double digits at 40-29. Neumann-Goretti appeared to be pulling away but the defending PCL champs charged back.
Pinkney (eight points, eight rebounds, two blocks) was the catalyst of the Vikings fourth quarter comeback. With his team trailing by 10, Pinkney corralled a miser runner from Funk for a tip slam with 2:16 left. After Warren finished in transition for the Saints, Pickron grabbed an offensive board on the ensuing possession and finished inside to put the lead back at eight. Pinkney’s length forced a miss on the other end and Archbishop Wood followed that up with a lay-up by Julius Phillips and finally an and-one by Pinkey, who cut the Saints lead to 52-48 with 46 seconds remaining.
Archbishop Wood cut the lead to 53-52 with only 15 seconds left and had one final possession after Ings knocked down two free throws. Funk’s heavy from the top of key went unanswered and Montague’s final free throw iced the game for the Saints. While the Vikings didn’t come away with a victory, head coach John Mosco felt the way his team rallied was an encouraging sign.
“I thought we just stayed together to get to where we were,” Mosco said. “We were fighting and I tried to call a timeout [on that final possession] but it was a good look. We kept battling back and paid attention on how to foul. We applied pressure but there are good team. There’s a reason there are a lot of banners up here.”
Neumann-Goretti now sits atop the PCL with six games remaining but the schedule doesn’t get any easier as they travel to play Bonner-Prendergast, who boast a 7-1 league record, on Sunday.