Jalen Duren (above, earlier this month) had the game-winning put-back as Roman beat Bonner at the buzzer. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Matt Chandik (@MChandik26)
UPPER DARBY -- Normally, the play probably would have been drawn up for the senior who’s been in so many big moments before.
Plans change pretty quick when that option isn’t available. When Roman Catholic had the ball with 9.9 seconds to play in Friday night’s Catholic League quarterfinal against Bonner, Cahillites coach Matt Griffin had to figure out an alternative to giving the ball to Lynn Greer III, the Division I prospect who’d fouled out a few minutes earlier.
Of course, Roman’s second and third options aren’t exactly scrubs. Rather, they’re two of the top sophomores in the entire country, a pair of class of 2022 five-star recruits. One of them, Justice Williams, had tied the game up on Roman’s previous possession, and when the Cahillites got the ball back, they knew to go to him again.
Williams got the ball, dashed to the left, spun back to the right while being defended by the Friars’ Connor Eagan and hoisted up a shot that found… Roman teammate Jalen Duren.
Duren frantically tossed up a shot that missed, popped his own rebound into the air and missed again before finally grabbing a third chance and laying it off the glass in and in as time expired to cap a 61-59 Cahillites win.
“The play wasn’t drawn up for me. The play was, ‘get Justice the ball. Best shooter. Let him go to work.’ Me, as the big, I’m going at the rebound. I needed it and I got it. I’ve never hit a game-winning shot, so I didn’t know what to do,” Duren said. “ I hit the shot and I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know if it counted or not, but when I saw everybody running toward me, my body just started feeling adrenaline and I got excited.
“I mean, it’s crazy. I can’t even explain it. It’s crazy to even think of it. He’s the best shooter on our team. It was more me in the moment, just looking to get a rebound just in case,” Duren continued. “I didn’t know if he was going to make or miss. Most of the time, he makes those shots, but I was just looking to go crash and I got it.”
The consensus No. 2 ranked class of 2022 player in the country, behind only Emoni Bates –– the Michigan talent widely considered the top overall prospect in high school –– Duren was a beast on the inside, finishing with 18 points, 18 rebounds and a pair of blocks. Williams, the No. 25 player nationally in the class, was the one who tied the game with a tough layup off the glass with 32 seconds to go.
“It’s awesome. That’s my brother. That’s why I put the shot up with four or five seconds left, because I knew he was going to get the rebound. I just rely on him to get the rebound. He bails me out a lot,” Williams said. “It helps my confidence a lot, because I know if it comes off the rim, most of the time, it’s going to be a dunk.”
The odds of either shot happening weren’t great less than a minute earlier with Bonner up 59-57 and in possession of the ball. The Friars tried to pass it around and run out the clock, but Williams got a hold of the ball and dislodged it to give himself a chance to tie the game. After he made the shot, an errant pass caught a bad deflection and hopped over to the Friars’ side of the court to set up Duren’s heroics.
“At that point, I had to get in there and get a steal,” said Williams, who finished with 18 points. “The clock was running down and I had to get a steal. I just had to make an aggressive move to get the ball and it worked out in our favor.”
Duren was an unstoppable force early as he dunked home his first five shot attempts, matching the 10 points that he scored in the regular-season loss to Bonner. The Friars, though, adjusted, and their high-pressure tactics on the ball meant that it was tough for the Roman guards to get the big man the ball. His three shots at the buzzer were the first shots that he attempted all fourth quarter.
“We were forgetting that we need to help on the weak side,” Bonner coach Kevin Funston said. “We weren't locking in and staying attached to him. It was just an early game jitters.”
A buzzer-beater was the apropos ending to an incredible game that featured a little bit of everything.
Roman held the game’s biggest lead at 15 after Duren flushed one of his seven dunks on the game, but the Friars took their first lead of the game with 3:45 to play when Malik Edwards (11 points) cashed in a 3-pointer. On the ensuing Bonner possession, Tyreese Watson (11 points) banked in a 3-pointer while absorbing contact from Greer with 2:35 to play, giving the Friars a four-point lead.
All that did, though, was eventually set up Duren’s heroics, a bucket that quickly quieted a raucous pro-Bonner crowd while setting off a celebration in a sea of purple on the court.
“My heart dropped,” said Eagan, who finished with 14 points. “I can’t even describe it. It’s hard.”
On the other side, there was plenty to celebrate.
“I guess it just worked out in our favor,” Williams said. “We had the lead for the whole game, so I guess it’s just the basketball gods saying that we had to win that game. It’s just how we keep our heads straight and focused down the stretch.”
Roman: 22 | 12 | 15 | 12 | 61
Bonner: 13 | 11 | 15 | 20 | 59
Roman: Duren 18, Williams 18, Greer III 15, Brown 5, Lett 4.
Bonner: Eagan 14, Uduma 11, Edwards 11, Rodriguez 11, Watson 11, Welde 1
Catholic League Quarterfinal Results
1) Archbishop Wood 72, 8) Archbishop Carroll 68 (OT)
5) Roman Catholic 61, 4) Bonner-Prendergast 59
7) Archbishop Ryan 58, 2) Bishop McDevitt 56
3) Neumann-Goretti 71, 6) Cardinal O’Hara 46
Catholic League Semifinals
Weds., Feb. 19 @ The Palestra
1) Archbishop Wood vs. 5) Roman Catholic (6:30 PM)
3) Neumann-Goretti vs. 7) Archbishop Ryan (8:15 PM