Jermai Stewart-Herring (above) had a strong debut for Roman Catholic. (Photo: Ty Daubert/CoBL)
Ty Daubert (@TyDaubert)
As defending PIAA Class 6A state champion Roman Catholic struggled to pull away from Plymouth Whitemarsh through three quarters in both teams’ season opener on Friday night, the Cahillites leaned on their energy and athleticism to create separation in the fourth.
Led by a 22-point performance from high-flying newcomer Jermai Stewart-Herring, Roman pushed the pace as it ran away with a 76-52 victory over the Colonials in the game’s final eight minutes at Holy Family University’s Campus Center Gymnasium.
Sophomore center Shareef Jackson scored 14 points for the Cahillites, while senior guard Xzayvier Brown added 13.
Stewart-Herring, a 6-foot-3 guard, attacked the basket in transition all night as PW struggled to contain him. He threw down a handful of big-time dunks and went to the foul line consistently, knocking down 12-of-15 free throws.
“I just go up confident,” he said. “Coach said to play with confidence and attack the rim hard. It was a lot of getting to the free throw line, because I knew they would foul me if I went up hard. If I went up weak, they weren’t gonna call that. It was a lot of getting to my spots, too. I just felt comfortable out there.”
It was quite the debut for the senior transfer from St. Elizabeth in Delaware, an early sign that he can be a difference-maker for Roman (1-0), a perennial Philadelphia Catholic League contender.
“I'm from Delaware, and I just want to show people that I can play down here,” Stewart-Herring said. “Bring momentum to the team, play with confidence and things like that.”
Stewart-Herring certainly brought his share of momentum in his first outing for the Cahillites.
After an eight-point first quarter from Jackson put Roman up early, PW (0-1) fought back to stay right in the thick of it, trailing 16-13 after the first. Senior wing Qudire Bennett had a stellar first half for the Colonials as he buried three 3-pointers before the break in a 17-point performance.
PW took the lead for a few brief stretches in the second quarter, but the Cahillites went back on top, 36-32, before halftime as Stewart-Herring put pressure on the defense on his way to an eight-point period in which he went 6-for-7 from the free throw line.
Refusing to go down easy, PW stuck around through the third as guard Chase Coleman, who scored 16, dropped eight points in the quarter.
Chris McNesby directs Roman Catholic during a timeout. (Photo: Ty Daubert/CoBL)
“We knew they were going to make shots,” Roman coach Chris McNesby said of PW. “We said to our guys, ‘Don’t let that rattle you, because they do that.’ That’s what they’re good at. We just tried to wear them down, and hopefully at the end they didn’t have the legs.”
By the time the fourth came around, PW just couldn’t keep up any longer as the hot shooting night went slightly cool late. Roman locked in defensively to get stops, leaving Stewart-Herring and Brown free to push the ball in transition.
With five minutes to go, Stewart-Herring ran down the floor and threw down an emphatic dunk to put the Cahillites up by 10 for the first time. Just over a minute later, his final two free throws put them ahead 64-46 as Roman cruised in the final moments.
“It’s an energy-changer,” Stewart-Herring said of the dunk. “That brought some energy to the team and switched up the game.”
Despite the end result, PW coach Jim Donofrio was pleased with his team’s effort to keep the game close for three quarters before Roman ultimately took control.
“I loved our confidence and our attitude,” he said. “But in a game against Roman — if they punch first, hopefully we can punch back. But if you punch them and take a lead, they’re going to have three more gears to go. … We’re young yet. We still don’t understand that every time we counter, they counter and you’ve seen a whole new thing to learn.”
The matchup was a good test for a Colonials team that has intentions of competing for a District 1-6A championship this season.
“For our particular team this year, it was the right move,” Donofrio said. “Last year, we played really well until we saw teams like Roman, and then we lost that gear. Our guys think that we can take the next step up, so let’s see it Day 1.”
For Roman, the opener gave a glimpse on how effective its starting lineup can be, with contributions coming from all over. The Cahillites have three top players that most would be familiar with in Jackson and St. Joe’s commits Brown and Anthony Finkley, who had a quiet first half in his Roman debut but did get to the foul line six times in the fourth quarter to score 10.
Stewart-Herring showed on Friday that the team has the talent around those three to succeed, even when they’re not doing it all.
“He’s gonna play well and complement those guys,” McNesby said. “I know he scored a little bit, but I think he defended well. And that’s what we’re going to hang our hat on.”
Stewart-Herring raved about the chance to play with the trio, along with fellow transfer Robert Cottrell, that allowed him to produce in his first game.
“Playing with them, it changes the game completely,” he said. “This is my first year playing with like four stars. They all really bring something to the game. They change the game, and none of them are selfish. It’s really different.”
Of course, Jackson, Brown and Finkley will still get theirs on many nights throughout the season with all the talent they possess. But the fact that Roman has more that can beat other teams is an enormous positive.
“We’re a great team when we’re playing together,” Stewart-Herring said. “We got to play fast, play with confidence. We really started rolling when we got everybody into the game. The team is gonna need everybody to play their part, and it’s going to change the game.”
Plymouth Whitemarsh: 13 | 19 | 12 | 8 || 52
Roman Catholic: 16 | 20 | 13 | 27 || 76
PW: Qudire Bennett 17, Chase Coleman 16, Jaden Colzie 10, Jimmy Flowers 5, Mani Sajid 2, Lincoln Sharpe 2
RC: Jermai Stewart-Herring 22, Shareef Jackson 14, Xzayvier Brown 13, Anthony Finkley 10, Erik Oliver-Bush 6, Robert Cottrell 5, Bryce Hillman 2, William Felder 2, Sebastian Edwards 2