O'Hara coach Ryan Nemetz (above) changed tempos at the right time as the Lions held off the Saints. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Ari Glazier (@AriGlazier)
Coaches who utilize a fast-paced offense are faced with a tricky balancing act. When you take a big lead, at what point, if at all, do you move away from your initial tactics and slow the game down?
That question was paramount in Cardinal O’Hara’s 61-54 upset road victory over Neumann-Goretti on Friday night.
After jumping out to an 16-point lead over NG in the first half, largely thanks to his team’s high-velocity offense, Lions coach Ryan Nemetz directed his team to start draining the clock. This led to neither team scoring a point from midway through the third quarter to the last seconds of the period.
Neumang guard Hysier Miller hit a floater to at the buzzer to end the scoring drought and cut O’Hara’s lead to 48-32. This seemed to kickstart Neumann-Goretti, who went on a 10-0 run to start the final quarter, dragging the crowd from being a nonfactor to uproariously willing their team to a comeback victory.
O’Hara returned to their earlier pace halfway through the fourth, and it paid dividends, as they were able to survive the Saints’ run and pull out the win. They had run the clock, and scored just enough in the final minutes, that Neumann coming within three immediately preceded the start of intentional fouling, with about 40 seconds remaining. Senior wing Kevin Reeves iced the game at the line, going four-for-four.
“You're saying, all right, let's take out longer possessions and extend the 16 point lead into the fourth quarter...which made it harder for them to come back,” Nemetz said. “I think it's a very tough balance and it's even harder for a player to be told, ‘Hey stop attacking’, after you've been attacking all game.”
Nemetz noted that maintaining an aggressive pace of play allowed Roman Catholic to erase a big O’Hara lead and come out with a win last Sunday. It was the first game of a grueling week for the Lions that also included a three point loss to Archbishop Carroll.
“We had a lead in every game,” Nemetz said. “We were in every game and we weren't able to pull it out. And I think that was honestly maybe a little bit lack of experience.”
Although NG was the heavy favorite going into Friday night’s contest, O’Hara did have an advantage. Goretti’s starting five consists of one guard, in Marist commit Hakim Byrd, surrounded by forwards and wings. In contrast, Cardinal O’Hara was able to play five out with a trio of dynamic guards in Anthony Purnell, Adrian Irving, and Tre Dinkins.
Tre Dinkins (above) had 19 points for O'Hara in the big road win. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Purnell got in foul trouble early and only finished with four points, and Irving had a solid 14-point outing, but Dinkins, who holds numerous Division II offers, capitalized on the constant mismatches to finish with a game-high 19 points. He was effective from behind the arc, shooting 4-8 on threes.
O’Hara junior forward Solo Bambara was another key factor in the win. He shored up the boards against a much larger Neumann team, snatching 10 rebounds as well as 11 points, 10 of which came in the first half.
For Neumann-Goretti, Saint Joseph’s commit Jordan Hall led the way with 16 points and nine rebounds.
However, the Lions were up to the task defensively, holding him to 7-for-20 from the field and forcing the 6-foot-7 senior into tough, inefficient jumpers. O’Hara locked down the 3-point line, with NG going 1-for-23 from deep.
The victory puts an end to Cardinal O’Hara’s regular season, in which they finished with a PCL record of 9-5 (16-6 overall), a six-game improvement from the previous season’s 3-10. One O’Hara assistant told CoBL it was the school’s first winning season in 20 years.
“I think because everybody underestimates us as the same O'Hara team from last year, and we're not that at all,” Reeves said. “Last year we used to go one-on-one, one-on-five and this year we're playing together.”
Nemetz felt his team left some wins on the table, though he acknowledged the turnaround from last year. Flipping the results of a three-point loss at West Catholic, or a two-point defeat at Bonner-Prendergast would put the Lions in contention for a top-four seed and home game in the quarterfinals. Instead, they’ll settle for sixth, and a road game with a shot to get to the Palestra..
Meanwhile, O’Hara’s victory may cost the Saints that title, as Archbishop Wood leaped ahead of them in the standings with a win over La Salle on Friday. NG now holds an 11-2 record, the same as Bishop McDevitt, who are responsible for their only prior league loss and have also bypassed the Saints in the PCL leaderboard.
Wood just has to beat Archbishop Ryan, with its star Aaron Lemon-Warren injured, at home in order to clinch regular season supremacy. A loss, followed by McDevitt and Neumann wins in their final contests would trigger tie-breaking procedures dependent on the rest of the standings.
Playing in the PCL means that weeks like Cardinal O’Hara just had, playing against three consecutive rosters with plenty of D-I talent, are inevitable. The Lions were up to the task on Friday, despite two tough losses days earlier.
“We all embraced it because it was a fun match up,” Nemetz said. “[This week] was kind of a test to see where we were at..” It showed we're ready to be right there, but we got to figure some small things out to be kind of above those all three teams consistently.”
O’Hara: 22 | 18 | 8 | 13 | 61
NG: 13 | 11 | 8 | 22 | 54
O’Hara: 19-33 FG, 8-14 3PT, 12-20 FT
NG: 23-64 FG, 1-23 3PT, 5-7 FT
O’Hara: Purnell 4, Irving 14, Dinkins 19, Reeves 13, Bambara 11
NG: Byrd 6, Evans 6, Young 3, Hall 16, Vespe 8, Miller 11, Stewart 4