Connor Eagan grew up a Bonner fan, and now he's starting for the Friars. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
Connor Eagan grew up a huge fan of Monsignor Bonner basketball.
The son of former Bonner hooper Tom Eagan remembers watching Friars’ games from the time he was “five or six” years old, going to the Palestra to serve as water boy during Bonner’s 2008 Catholic League semifinals appearance. Ever since then, he’d dreamed of one day donning the Friars uniform, to follow in his dad’s footsteps and play for the school he’d been cheering for from his early years.
A dozen years later, Eagan’s finally getting his chance.
Now a senior at the school now called Bonner-Prendergast, Eagan has finally gotten his time on the varsity squad. And there’s no bigger regular-season game on the Friars’ schedule than their annual Delco date with Cardinal O’Hara, whose latest iteration came by Monday night.
“I’ve been watching this game since I was five years old,” Eagan said, “always rooting for Bonner.”
In the 2020 version of a game that Bonner coach Kevin Funston called “the Holy War for high school,” referencing the famous St. Joe’s/Villanova rivalry, it was Eagan who gave the Friar faithful something to cheer about. The senior’s 3-pointer and block in the closing seconds of overtime proved to be the game-winning plays in a 66-64 thriller that saw wild momentum swings in both directions before the visitors emerged with a key decision.
“Oh, it’s so cool,” Eagan said. “I’m thrilled that this experience happened...I love playing in this atmosphere. I ran out for warmups, there were boos, cheers, it was great.”
After his middle school years at St. Dot’s, Eagan arrived at Bonner part of a freshman class that also includes current four-year varsity members Tyreese Watson and Donovan Rodriguez, as well as another current starter, Oscar Udoma. But while Watson and Rodriguez immediately saw varsity minutes alongside players like Ajiri Johnson (Rider), Tariq Ingraham (Wake Forest) and Isaiah Wong (University of Miami), Eagan spent his first year on the freshman year, then mostly played JV as a sophomore and junior, seeing minimal varsity time last year.
But he earned his spot through a strong offseason, starting from the first game of the season as a senior, a 6-foot-1 wing who often guards opposing forwards and has to fight with them on the glass and for positioning in the post.
“Preseason I had some guys saying ‘no way he’s playing, no way he’s going to start,’” Funston said. “He just does every little thing, can’t play without him. I love that kid.
“I say ‘he’s the heart and soul’ about every guy on the team, but Connor sacrifices his body,” the second-year head coach added. “He doesn’t care about the points; so many times in games, he comes up and just makes winning plays.”
Eagan did just that to lift Bonner (14-3, 8-2 PCL) to a crucial win over O’Hara.
In a game where the Friars opened 16-2 and led by as many as 15 in the first half, they had to fight off not one but two Lions comebacks: one which ran the entire second quarter and put O’Hara up a point earlier in the third; and then, after Bonner re-established a nine-point advantage, another rally by the home team that had the jam-packed gym anticipating the biggest O’Hara hoops win in quite a long time, after a Tre Dinkins triple put the Lions up 54-48 with 1:28 remaining.
Even some of the Friars faithful headed for the doors at that point, sure that the momentum had switched sides for the last time.
But Bonner had a third wind.
After Eagan cut the deficit in half with a three-point play, he and Udoma teamed up for a steal, with Eagan getting the ball to Malik Edwards, who buried a game-tying triple. Both teams got buckets in the final 20 seconds of regulation, necessitating extra time.
Once again, O’Hara jumped out, getting the first two buckets of overtime, and once again the home crowd seemed sure it was ready to party. Edwards and Eagan had other ideas, connecting on treys that put the Friars up a point with 15 seconds left. At the other end, Eagan came up with the game-sealing block on an Adrian Irving Jr. drive, one final Watson foul shot making up for the final score.
“Tyrese drove, and I knew he had 100 percent confidence in me,” Eagan said of his go-ahead shot, a triple from the corner off a find from Watson. “He gave me a great pass, just had to knock it down.”
Watson and Edwards paced the Friars with 18 points, with Eagan chipping in 13, his most during Catholic League play; he also finished with six rebounds, two assists, two steals, and the block.
Malik Edwards (above) had 18 points playing against his former O'Hara teammates. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
The game was especially personal for Edwards, who played at O’Hara his freshman year along with the rest of the current Lions core, whom he said he was still friendly with when they’re not playing each other.
“I came out here, I was like I know everybody’s going to be booing me,” he said. “We talked before the game though, and I wished them luck.”
O’Hara (14-4, 7-3) got 21 points from Dinkins, including 14 from the senior in the second quarter as the Lions mounted their main comeback. Irving had a strong game with 20 points, as the junior was 7-of-10 from the floor, with three and-ones, and four steals. Junior Anthony Purnell had all but one of his 13 in the second half and overtime.
Eagan said his plans at the moment are to attend Penn State next year, but before he worries about that, there’s the matter of the end of the basketball season to attend to. The Friars were well-aware that the winner would become the No. 3 seed, while the loser becomes one of four three-loss teams that fill up the No. 5 through No. 8 slots, along with Ryan (7-3), Carroll (6-3) and Roman (6-3).
If Bonner finishes off its season by beating Ryan, West (3-6), McDevitt (7-2) and Lansdale (1-10) –– all of which except West it’ll play at home –– they’ll be no worse than third in the league, with a chance at a top-two slot. Any of that would mean a bye in the league’s first round, with a home game in the quarterfinals for the right to play in the league semifinals at the Palestra.
O’Hara also has the ability to earn a top-four slot, though that would mean winning at Devon Prep (2-6), at home against Roman, at Carroll and at Neumann-Goretti (9-0), a tall task for any team in the league.
After the Friars missed out on a Palestra trip last year despite the presence of Wong and Ingraham, it would be quite the accomplishment for this year’s group to get it done.
Considering how much he’s enjoying every moment of this season, you can only imagine how Eagan would feel being on the Palestra court instead of in the bleachers.
“It’s unbelievable,” Eagan said, “to be out there with my brothers, going after every loose ball, every play, every whistle, every game.”
Bonner: | 16 | 11 | 17 | 14 | 8 | 66
O’Hara: | 2 | 23 | 12 | 21 | 6 | 64
Bonner: 22-54 FG, 6-16 3PT, 16-21 FT
O’Hara: 23-42 FG, 7-15 3PT, 11-18 FT
Bonner: Edwards 18, Watson 18, Eagan 13, Rodriguez 10, Welde 4, Udoma 3
O’Hara: Dinkins 21, Irving 20, Purnell 13, Trickey 7, Reeves 3