Rahsool Diggins (above) flirted with a triple-double as Wood outlasted O'Hara on the road. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Carter Fillman (@JC_Fillman)
Archbishop Wood isn’t a stranger to close games.
Early in the season, it was a hard-fought PCL opener against Bishop McDevitt and coming away with a three-point win at home. It was just a short three weeks ago when they took national power Paul VI into a seven overtime thriller, but fell short in a game where both teams soared into triple digits. Just last week, they took New Jersey power Wildwood Catholic down to the wire and came away with a two-point win in enemy territory.
And their most recent game against upstart and undefeated Cardinal O’Hara? Well, the Vikings can just add it to their rolodex of nail biters after pulling out a 67-63 win in Delaware County on Wednesday night.
“We play a tough schedule,” said Wood coach John Mosco, specifically referencing the Paul VI game. “We also have practiced situations everyday and we try to have them prepared for [anything].”
The Vikings’ close game experience helped immensely, as a potential game clinching windmill dunk from 6-5 junior wing Daeshon Shepherd hit back iron and bounced back into play.
With Wood (8-3, 4-0) up five at the time and 10 seconds remaining, O’Hara junior guard Anthony Purnell scooped up the rock and nailed a pull up three to make it a one-possession game with five seconds on the clock. But there was little panic, and junior guard Jaylen Stinson calmly sank a pair of free throws in front of a raucous O’Hara crowd to ice the game.
Mosco gave credit to the game atmosphere in providing further preparation for his squad of juniors: “We’re playing in a big stadium here, people gotta understand if we’re lucky enough to get to the Palestra it’s gonna be loud, they’re gonna have to start thinking on their own.”
Finding themselves down double digits throughout the game, Cardinal O’Hara (11-1, 4-1) continued to find ways to fight and claw their way back. Down 61-54 with under two minutes remaining, the Lions used a quick 6-2 run to give the O’Hara faithful some hope for late game magic. Though they had some missed opportunities down the stretch.
“These guys are resilient,” O’Hara coach Ryan Nemetz said. “These guys are tough guys, young men. I mean, that’s in their DNA, in their character.”
Despite being down double digits at two points during the game (in the second quarter and third quarter), O’Hara was able to fight their way back and never allowed Wood to fully coast to a blowout finish. Purnell (19 points/7 rebounds) and his classmate Adrian Irving Jr. (19 points/4 rebounds) showed the ability to consistently hit big shots early on to keep the Lions hanging around.
But when it came down to it, Wood was able to rely on any one of their five potential division one players to make a winning play. It’s not just the talent that makes Wood a dangerous team, but it’s the way the starting lineup has shown the ability to play together. Each player feeds off of the abilities of the other, always seeming to be exactly where a no look pass may go.
Rahsool Diggins (14 points/7 rebounds/7 assists) was able to put it best:
“We have crazy chemistry,” the high-major D-I recruit and 6-3 junior point guard said. “We played with each other all year round since 8th grade. We always know each other’s spots and where we are gonna be.”
Wood junior Daeshon Shepherd (left) goes up against O'Hara defenders for a bucket. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Mosco credited the culture that past players have established as well.
“It started with when I first got there with the guys before them: Tommy Funk, Collin Gillespie, Andrew Funk and Tyree Pinkron,” the seventh-year head coach and former longtime Neumann-Goretti assistant said. “They come back and they talk about what it is like to play here (at Wood) and how it is to play in college. They all play together, so when you got five guys buying in every game and playing together it makes my job easy.”
With big league games looming against Bonner-Prendergast, Neumann-Goretti, and Roman Catholic in the coming weeks, Diggins has one goal on his mind: “We need to win this year, we’re taking it one game at a time.”
For O’Hara, their first loss of the season serves as a disappointment, but it is nowhere near the time to write them off. While Nemetz noted their struggles in the first half, he also mentioned how they have to continue to learn to bring it for all 32 minutes.
“We still have a lot to prove," O'Hara's second-year coach said. "It’s a great start but nobody remembers who was good in the middle of the season. So our guys are ready and hungry to continue to prove it’s one game.”
O’Hara will look to rebound against Lansdale Catholic and West Catholic in the coming week, but a final three game stretch against Carroll, Roman, and Neumann-Goretti looms in the distance.
“Moving forward, it’s just getting better everyday,” Nemetz said. “We've gotta work on our defense a little bit and we’ll be good.”
Players of the Game
Rahsool Diggins (17 Points / 7 rebounds / 7 assists)
There is really no need to question why Diggins has become one of the best guards in the area. He approaches the game with a calmness and maturity that is exciting to watch. There were many moments in this one where you could be left scratching your head on how he could possibly have gotten a pass off. From head fakes, to dump offs around the rim, to passing around the body of a defender while midair Diggins vision is truly a sight to see. While most of his production came around the rim in this one (7-16 FG, 0-5 3PT), Diggins showed the ability to create space on his jumper and find ways to finish through traffic. Defensively, Mosco admitted he can come and go, but when the junior guard locks in ball handlers are in for a hard time. A consensus top-100 recruit in his class, Diggins holds offers from the likes of Virginia Tech, UConn, and a variety of A10 schools.
Muneer Newton (9 points/13 rebounds/4 assists)
When Cardinal O’Hara’s announcer announced Newton as a center, there was a look of confusion on the 6-5 junior wing's face as he shook his head and was ribbed by his teammates. Newton was instrumental in the Vikings controlling of the glass, corralling anything in arms reach and ensuring O’Hara was granted no second chance opportunities. While Newton does man the lane for a team lacking a true big, his ball skills and vision were on display throughout. Newton did an excellent job of outletting passes after rebounds, operating from the top of the lane, and directing teammates where to go. The Viking junior displayed strong athleticism around the block and terrific footwork on a handful of finishes.
O’Hara: 16 | 13 | 13 | 21 | 63
Wood: 18 | 13 | 18 | 18 | 67
O’Hara: 21/53 FG, 9/29 3PT, 12/19 FT
Wood: 27/59 FG, 4/21 3PT, 9/11 FT
O’Hara: Purnell 19, Irving 19, Dinkins 13, Reeves 5, Bambara 4, Trickey 3
Wood: Stinson 16, Shepherd 16, Diggins 14, Randolph 10, Newton 9, Jackson 2