CHELTENHAM >> There’s no clear-cut definition of what a winning play in basketball is.
There are the obvious examples like a buzzer-beater or a chase-down block but sometimes it’s a little more nuanced or a little less graceful. With the game very much in the balance Sunday afternoon, Roman Catholic senior Seth Lundy threw himself after a loose ball rebound and somehow saved it to teammate Justice Williams.
Williams drew a foul and made both foul shots, giving Roman a three-point edge in Bishop McDevitt’s standing-room only gym.
Roman took the Royal Lancers’ best shot, but made just enough winning plays to fend off McDevitt 57-53 to finish atop the Philadelphia Catholic League’s regular season standings.
“I’ve been in situations like this since I was a freshman, so I know what it comes down to,” Lundy said. “Little things like that is what wins games and that’s what happened today. I got the rebound and found Justice, he hit the free throws and as a freshman, that’s big for him.”
Roman (18-4, 13-1 PCL) entered play a game up in the Catholic League’s ever-volatile standings, but McDevitt (17-5, 11-3 PCL) came in tied with La Salle for second place just a game back. With the rest of the league sorting out the muddled playoff picture elsewhere, the top of the league was on the line in Wyncote.
It made sense that Roman, the defending PCL and PIAA 6A state champion would be in the mix. The Lancers, despite a resurgent season last year, weren’t on a lot of preseason lists for a top-three finish. Under second-year coach Will Chavis, McDevitt has more than proved itself a contender going into the second season.
The crowd on hand supported it, with every seat in the house filled, the stage opened to hold the student section and late-coming fans standing along both base lines. They saw a game that came down to the final minute, with a couple shots just not falling for the Royal Lancers.
“A couple plays didn’t go our way, a couple shots didn’t go down but that’s how the game is,” Chavis said. “We played well, we were patient except for the end of the game where we kind of rushed a couple shots but if you make those shots, it’s a different game.”
McDevitt, which honored its four seniors pregame, came out with a great offensive game plan. Roman, which was without junior guard Lynn Greer III due to an injury, had trouble dealing with the Lancers’ drives and kick-outs for open shots.
While those shots didn’t always fall, McDevitt still built a 19-14 lead after one quarter and despite a cold second half, trailed just 24-23 at the half. A junior-heavy group, McDevitt has been tremendous on the defensive end all year and they were at it again Sunday against a team loaded with firepower.
“They just work hard, they don’t take plays for granted, they stay focused and aggressive and just communicate,” Chavis said. “They really sacrifice of themselves to compete and play that way.
“We held Roman to 20 points under their average. I’m not sure many people expected the game would be that close.”
One of those juniors on McDevitt is guard Robert Smith and he took over in the third quarter, drilling a trio of 3-pointers and scored on another tough drive as the Lancers went shot-for-shot with Roman. Lundy hit a clutch three off a pass from Williams and a bucket from superb freshman Jalen Duran put the Cahillites up 41-36 going to the final quarter.
Smith finished a fourth quarter drive through contact as part of a 9-0 run midway through the frame that put the home side up 47-43 with 4:36 to go. Despite a brutal finishing slate that saw McDevitt win at Neumann-Goretti on Tuesday then top Bonner-Prendie at home Friday, the Lancers had given themselves a chance to close out with another statement.
“We did a good job of being patient, sharing the ball and moving the ball,” Chavis said. “It’s the same things we’ve done all year. They showed me they’ve been growing up, we know every day as a coaching staff what the kids are capable of and we’re pushing them to their capabilities.”
Lundy said that throughout the season, the Cahillities have put too much pressure on themselves early in games, which he attributed to knowing they had a target on their back from last year. But, he’s also seen his teammates rise to the occasion again and again when the moment calls for it.
Down four on the road Sunday, Roman found that zone again.
“A lot of times, when these games are so close down the stretch, it comes down to your players,” Roman coach Matt Griffin said. “We have great players. They’re tough kids and they make winning plays. I credit McDevitt for the way they played, they had a terrific game plan and played really hard and really together on their home floor, which is a tough place to win.”
Hakim Hart, who led Roman and tied with Robert Smith for a game-high 19 points, hit a 3-pointer in front of the McDevitt students to cut the lead to 47-46 with 4:22 left. It was Roman’s last field goal of the game, but a key part of their string of winning plays.
Jamil Manigo hit a trey to put McDevitt up 50-47, but some free throws helped Roman tie the game then go up 52-51. Following a missed one-and-one free throw, Duren secured the rebound and the Cahillities looked for a score. The 6-foot-9 forward had 12 points and 14 rebounds.
Williams missed a shot, but Lundy chased down the rebound and somehow saved it back to the freshman with 51.5 left, with Williams canning both at the line for a 54-51 lead.
“Losing is the worst feeling to me and as a team, I think we all feel the same way, we hate it,” Lundy said. “We can’t afford to lose again at this point of the season, going into playoffs, the city championship and states. Our mindset has to be to go out and dominate.”
Roman didn’t close the game out as cleanly as it could have, but the Lancers couldn’t capitalize as two good looks from 3-point range and a couple shots in close just refused to go down.
Both teams will be home for Friday’s PCL quarterfinal round. McDevitt will host Archbishop Wood, the No. 6 seed, while Roman will host the lowest remaining seed among the four teams playing in Wednesday’s first round.
“We were just tough enough and competitive enough to get enough stops,” Griffin said. “Jalen Duren was absolutely terrific, Seth Lundy and Hakim Hart have been leading us all year and Justice Williams knocked down some big free throws.
“We’ve been through a lot together the last couple years, we’ve won and we’ve lost, we’ve been in a lot of tight games and we just rely on our senior leadership and our experience to come into a hostile gym and win.”
ROMAN CATHOLIC 14 10 17 16 – 57
BISHOP MCDEVITT 19 4 13 17 – 53
Roman Catholic: Seth Lundy 4 3-4 13, Justice Williams 2 6-6 11, Hakim Hart 6 4-7 19, Jalen Duren 5 2-4 12, Louie Wild 0 2-4 2. Totals: 17 17-25 57
Bishop McDevitt: Ahmir Harris 2 1-2 5, Seneca Willoughby 3 0-0 9, Austin Alcorn 1 0-0 3, Cameron Gardner 2 0-0 4, Glen Smith 1 0-0 2, Robert Smith 7 2-3 19, Jamil Manigo 4 0-1 9, Shamir Moseby 0 2-2 2. Totals: 20 5-8 53.
3-pointers: RC – Hart 3, Lundy 2, Williams; BM – R Smith 3, Willoughby 3, Alcorn, Manigo.
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