LOWER MORELAND TWP. >> When Diamond Johnson drilled her final free throw of the game, she exulted. She looked at her bench, pointed up, and screamed at the top of her lungs. Johnson’s Neumann-Goretti teammates reveled in her joy.
At the other end of the floor, reality had set in for St. Basil Academy. The season was over.
Johnson and Neumann-Goretti squeaked past St. Basil Academy, 64-61, Friday night in the first round of the PIAA Class 3A tournament.
St. Basil erased a 13-point deficit to stake a two-possession lead with just over two minutes remaining. From there, the Saints outscored the Panthers, 11-3, to advance to the second round of states.
Johnson gave Neumann-Goretti energy, of course. The unstoppable shooting guard also gave the Saints 36 points, 10 rebounds, three steals, and three assists. The sixth-best high school senior in the nation, according to ESPN’s player rankings, Johnson went 6-for-6 at the foul line inside the final 60 seconds to ice the game.
“You have to stay focused,” said Johnson, a five-star recruit who is committed to Rutgers. You can’t let the crowd get to you when things go wrong. You have to keep that mental focus. That was a tough team to play against.”
St. Basil forward Denae Carter led all scorers with 38 points on 13-for-24 shooting. Carter, like several of her teammates, had a difficult time coping with the early exit from the state tournament.
“My best friends are on this team,” said Carter, who also had 12 rebounds, four blocks, and a steal for the Panthers (22-3). “It’s a great environment to be with people who have your back, no matter what.”
St. Basil Academy frittered away a five-point lead with 2:13 remaining. To get there, the Panthers played their best stretch of basketball of the night.
The champions of the Athletic Association of Catholic Academies and District 1, the Panthers dominated the third quarter. They held Neumann-Goretti to seven points on 3-for-11 shooting and forced six turnovers. All the while, St. Basil hit on all cylinders.
For a 12-minute stretch, spanning the third and fourth quarters, St. Basil outscored Neumann-Goretti, 20-9, to take its first lead of the game since early in the first quarter. The Panthers added to it, too. A three-point play by Carter gave them their largest edge of the game, 58-53.
That’s when Panthers coach Terry Mancini called a timeout.
“I thought we were a little tired,” he said. “I wanted to talk over what we wanted to do and just regroup.”
Out of the break, Neumann-Goretti went on a tear. Mihjae Hayes had a second-chance bucket off a miss by Johnson and, on the Saints’ next possession, she found Sierra Bermudez in the left corner for a wide-open 3-pointer. Just like that, the game was tied.
The next six points belonged to Johnson, all from the foul line.
“When you’re playing against a Division I player like that, she put the team on her back,” Mancini said of Johnson, the two-time Gatorade Player of the Year in Pennsylvania.
“Mihjae played a big part in this one,” Johnson said. “We needed it. I’m just happy we won. We had to do everything to survive. We didn’t want to go home tonight.”
St. Basil picked up seven points, six rebounds, and five assists from Lizzie Deal. Shannon Remolde joined Carter in double figures, scoring 15 points.
Bermudez added 12 points for Neumann-Goretti, the third seed out of District 12.
“They’re not a three seed. They’re at least a two,” St. Basil coach Terry Mancini said of the Saints. “To get a draw like that in the first round, the state probably has to look at that. District 12 is just a mess. I don’t want to get into it. It’s just a tough draw.”
“This was a tough one,” Carter said. “Just a hard game.”
Neumann-Goretti 64, St. Basil Academy 61
Neumann-Goretti: Price 2-3 0-0 4, Hayes 3-15 0-0 7, D. Johnson 10-23 11-14 36, Graham 0-0 0-0 0, Bermudez 4-9 0-0 12, Mungo 1-1 0-0 2, Ricks 1-4 1-2 3. Totals: 21-55 12-16 64.
St. Basil Academy: Remolde 6-11 2-4 15, Grant 0-0 0-0 0, Deal 3-3 1-3 7, Ems 0-0 0-0 0, Hunter 0-1 0-0 0, Scannel 0-2 1-2 1, Carter 13-24 12-22 38. Totals: 22-41 16-31 61.
Neumann-Goretti 15 26 7 16—64
St. Basil Academy 16 15 13 13—61
3-point field goals: Neumann-Goretti 10-30 (Hayes 1-4, D. Johnson 5-17, Bermudez 4-8, Ricks 0-1); St. Basil Academy 1-10 (Remolde 1-6, Hunter 0-1, Scannel 0-1, Carter 0-2). Total fouls: Neumann-Goretti 20, St. Basil Academy 18. Fouled out: Price, Remolde, Deal. Technical fouls: None.
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