A murmur ran through the crowd as the Clinton Christian Eagles took the floor for warm-ups before John Paul’s boys basketball home opener on Tuesday night. Their sheer size impressed many; with four players 6’7″ or taller. Scouts from premier college basketball programs such as Syracuse, Xavier, DePaul, and UVA-Wise sat in the stands, keeping their eyes on Eagles’ prospects such as standout Develle Phillips and Ahsante Shivers. The Washington Post recently ranked Clinton Christian, the defending Capitol Beltway champions, number three in their preseason All-Met standings. Needless to say, the considerably-smaller Wolves had a behemoth task looming before them.
In sports, while skill plays a role, the mental approach a team takes when preparing for a game also factors in a considerable amount. Teams may look at the opposition and psych themselves out before the game has ever even started. The result has been decided before play has begun. However, upset after upset serves as examples that no matter how large the task may seem, the game isn’t over until it’s over.
From the opening tip it was apparent the Wolves came to play. The John Paul fans went crazy when JP scored the opening basket of the game. Little did everyone know, the 2-0 lead would be the closest margin for the entire contest.
Within moments the lead had grown to nearly double-digits before the Eagles tallied their first points. Turnovers by Clinton Christian, coupled with fast-break conversions off of those free possessions, put the Wolves ahead 15-7 after the first quarter.
Frustration began to set in for the Eagles. They missed many close opportunities near the basket, and the Wolves continued their solid work of boxing out and hustling down in transition. Quick baskets and stingy defense helped the Wolves increase their lead even more. At many points when 6’8″ Phillips would receive the ball, he would be quadruple-teamed, thus not allowing him to generate much offensive production all game long.
At halftime, the score resembled that of a blowout, but with a team of Clinton Christian’s caliber, 33-14 was not large enough. John Paul knew that despite the 19 point advantage, the Eagles would come out strong in the second half to overcome their deficit.
Wolves’ senior Xayvin Johnson held the team together and lead the squad throughout the Eagles’ furious charge. He provided key baskets and as the team’s only senior, controlled the flow of the offense. Despite having to leave the game on multiple occasions due to injuries, he finished with 17 points.
“It meant a lot to get that win because it’s a big momentum builder for our guys. Like I told them, very few people thought we could win but once the ball goes up it’s just basketball,” said Johnson.
The third quarter was the Wolves’ lowest scoring, as they only managed 12. Clinton Christian on the other hand exploded for 20, as opposed to seven in each of the first two, and cut the lead to 45-34.
Ahsante Shivers carried the Eagles through the final quarter. The game went from a blowout to a nail biter. The intensity increased in the closing minutes, as the score came down below ten. Sophomore Brandon Edmonds and junior Tom Gregoritis rallied the Wolves. Every time it got close, the Wolves’ lead would increase again.
The game came down to free throws with 59.3 seconds to go as the score was 58-54. John Paul had chances to seal the deal, but missed some key free throws which allowed the Eagles to stay in it.
It was a one possession game at 61-58 with 33.2 to go, but it never got closer than that. Clinton Christian committed the cardinal sin of basketball in tight games: an intentional foul. This gave the Wolves two free throws and the ball, and John Paul’s lead was back up to six with under 30 seconds to go.
The final seconds ticked away as Clinton Christian scored one more basket, but once the Wolves scored again, that was it. John Paul lead the game wire to wire; that is, they never trailed. The Wolves had taken down the number three team in the area. David had taken down Goliath.
“It was great to see all our hard work pay off with such a big win. It meant a lot to us and will hopefully help us build momentum going on in the season,” said Gregoritis.
“We don’t let the little things bother us, like how big or fast a team is. We just try to find a weakness to a good team and attack that one spot in their game their lacking,” said Edmonds.
Edmonds was the Wolves’ leading scorer with 24 points. Xayvin Johnson followed him with 17, and junior Chauncey Wallace was close behind with 12. Gregoritis contributed 8.
For Clinton Christian, Shivers was the leading scorer with 32. Phillips added 13.
The Wolves look to carry the momentum from this victory into multiple tournaments during the month of December. After a season-opening loss at St. Stephens St. Agnes last Saturday, the win also improved the Wolves’ record to 1-1.