DANVERS, Mass. –- St. John’s Prep protected its perfect record (8-0) and pole position, pulling out a win tonight over No. 23 Catholic Memorial, 65-62.
“It’s a big game, we’re rivals,” St. John’s coach Sean Connolly said of the up-and-down game. “We’re fighting for first place in the league, so stuff’s going to happen,” he added, referring to the aggressive play which resulted in numerous jump balls, separating of players and screams from both bleachers at the referees.
“They have a great player who could take over and make some plays for them,” Catholic Memorial coach Denis Tobin said. “We have some very good players, they have a great one at the high school level.”
Tobin was referring to Prep's leading rebounder and scorer for the game, Pat Connaughton, who came down with 20 boards and put up 27 points. He also racked up six assists and four steals.
“Beating them at home in front of this crowd was huge,” the Notre Dame-bound Connaughton said. The fact that the game didn’t have a clear winner until the final buzzer sounded might have contributed to the emotion."
With a minute left in the game, CM’s Dan Powers (14 points) got an outlet pass from Matt Droney and made the open court layup to put CM (6-4) within one, at 63-62, after coming into the fourth quarter down 48-40.
“I think that we got careless with the ball,” Connolly said of the Eagles losing their third quarter lead.
St. John’s didn’t score on their next possession, and Powers pulled down a rebound . The ball made its way to Droney, and he drove to the hole and was fouled, but failed to make either free throw with 41.1 left in the game.
Connaughton got the rebound after the second miss, tried to make his way up the court but was fouled with 37.8 on the clock. He made the first, missed the second, leaving St. John’s up by two at 64-62.
CM’s Matt Goreham got the rebound off the miss and down the other end the ball was put in the hands of freshman guard Aamahne Santos (10 points) who tried tie the game a layup, but was fouled. He also, missed both of his free throws.
“We wouldn’t have been there without him,” added Tobin after the game. “And he’s a freshman.”
Connaughton got the ball, got down the court and made a few circles dribbling and was eventually fouled. He made the first, missed the second.
“I missed a few free throws at the end of the game,” said Connaughton, shrugging of his other stats.
CM got the ball, and a chance to win, but a missed three and tip in that followed came up short.
“We learn new stuff every game,” said Powers. “Like if we hit four free throws at the end of the game, we win.”
The Knights were not always fighting from behind; at the half, they were up by three and had control of the game.
“CM is a good team,” said Prep’s Stephen Haladyna (13 points). “They get the game [going] up and down real fast. “
Up 29-26 at the half, the Knights had Connolly and the Prep players making adjustments, and they did, outscoring CM 22-11 in the third on the heels of Connaughton and junior Freddy Shove scoring eight in the quarter.
“In the first half, we were playing into their hands, their defense was hyped up,” said Shove. “We needed to come stronger in the second half, coach addressed that. We had to have them fear our defense.”
In the fourth, the Eagles almost lost the lead because of CM’s tenacious defense and some miscues by his team, according to Connolly.
“We were trying to dribble through a trap instead of passing over it,” said Connolly. “But you’ve got to credit CM, they were all over the ball.”
Although a close one, Connaughton still thinks the win is a high value for the team.
“We haven’t beat CM on our home court since my freshman year,” said Connaughton. “It’s really a turning point in our season."
With 1:37 left in the game, St. John’s senior captain Conor Macomber was stripped of the ball at half court, fell and hit the back of his head. He was bleeding, helped up from the floor and off the court. According to coach Connolly, he was en route to the hospital to get stitches after the game. No further report was given.