N-G junior Hysier Miller (above) had 24 points as the Saints downed Archbishop Wood. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Kevin Callahan (@CP_KCallahan)
PHILADELPHIA – In a midseason matchup of the top two teams in the Catholic League, the only undefeated teams still standing, Archbishop Wood swung for the early knockout.
The visiting Vikings sprinted to a swift seven-point lead on Neumann-Goretti late in the first quarter Friday night before a packed house that was more astute observers of basketball excellence than boisterous fans.
However, unlike the admiring crowd, the Saints knew they could do something about the early barrage from Wood. Of course, that is what great teams do, and Neumann-Goretti certainly qualifies in its quest to reclaim the PCL title that for many years seemed preordained to the Saints.
“I just feel that when they went on runs, we just had to answer,” Hysier Miller said after scoring a game-high 24 points to spark Neumann-Goretti to a 66-55 win. “We can’t get disappointed if they score quickly; we have shooters, too.”
Indeed, both teams are loaded with shooters, which is a sizeable reason why they are leading a stacked Catholic League this season. But, the Saints and Vikings boast athletes who can defend. So runs were to be expected.
And that’s what happened when Neumann-Goretti (14-2, 8-0) scored the last five points of a crisp first quarter to cut the Viking’s lead to 17-15 after eight minutes.
Then, the Saints opened the second quarter with 11-straight points, capped by a dunk from Miller. The strong junior guard finished with 17 as Neumann-Goretti mounted a 35-28 lead at the half.
“I see this win as a step forward in the right direction for the team,” Miller said. “In tough games, we learn how to play as a team and that’s important.”
Carl Arrigale (above) went up against his former 18-year assistant in Wood head coach John Mosco. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Besides the learning lesson, Neumann-Goretti is the lone unbeaten in the PCL at 8-0 while Archbishop Wood (13-4) dipped to 9-1 in the league.
‘I’m proud of our effort but I think we have a lot more room to grow,” Neumann-Goretti coach Carl Arrigale said. “Really, we held serve tonight. We won on our home court. It would’ve been a much bigger deal if they had won. We don’t lose many games here.”
Yes, the importance of this regular season win can be diminished since both teams are aiming for the top two seeds and a rematch at the Palestra in the Catholic League finals.
And, therefore the loss can also be minimized, even though it ended an 11-game winning run.
“We try to keep everything in perspective,” Wood coach John Mosco said. “It’s another hard fight Catholic League game on a Friday night. We would like to win it, but we lost. We’ve got to move on to the next one. We got to keep fighting and go on to next week.”
Even with a fresh dose of perspective, this loss was easier to swallow since Mosco was Arrigale’s assistant for 18 years in this gym.
“My name is hanging on a banner,” Mosco said, looking up in the rafters. “It’s always a homecoming. It’s always crazy seeing all the old friends.
“We try to win every game, it’s a special game, but we didn’t shoot the ball really well, said Mosco, a graduate from what was then St. John Neumann in 1983. “We were 2-for-10 from the foul line in the fourth quarter, so there are things we got to work on and we will.”
Wood was paced in scoring by guard Rahsool Diggins with 15 while Daeshon Shepherd and Jaylen Stinson both scored 13.
“We talk about it enough,” Arrigale said. “They really played downhill. They shoot well. And they go so hard the offense of glass.”
Wood made another run in the fourth quarter, slashing the Saints’ lead to five points with 2:15 left to play. But Hakim Byrd sank two free throws to pad the lead to 60-53 with 1:47 to play. Byrd scored 17 for the game, including nine in the final eight minute.
Neumann-Goretti point guard Hakim Byrd chipped in 17 points in the win. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
“We won a game in January on our home floor, that’s the way I look at it,” Arrigale said. “There’s a lot of basketball left to play. We got another one on Monday.”
The Saints hit the road Monday night to play Archbishop Ryan. Neumann-Goretti also has tough dates against McDevitt and O’Hara.
The Vikings still have tough challenges at Carroll and St. Joseph’s Prep and at home against Ryan.
Neumann-Goretti, though, is better suited for those challenges after handling Wood. When Miller drained another 3-pointer with just over two minutes left in the third quarter, the Saints’ lead bulged to 47-33.
Of course, the Vikings still had another spurt in them.
“We know basketball is a game of runs,” Miller said, “and we made a bigger push.”
Archbishop Wood: 17 | 11 | 10 | 17 | 55
Neumann-Goretti : 15 | 20 | 15 | 16 | 66
Archbishop Wood: Marcus Randolph 8, Daeshon Shepherd 13, Muneer Newton 6, Rahsool Diggins 15, Jaylen Stinson 13.
Neumann-Goretti: Hakim Byrd 17, Chris Evans 3, Cameron Young 8, Jordan Hall 7, Blaise Vespe 5, Hysier Miller 24, Masud Stewart 2.