John Iatesta (@johniatesta)
Neumann-Goretti is the champion of a game that hadn’t been played in 33 years.
The Catholic League champions defeated Imhotep Charter of the Public League 52-51, the first time that the two top city leagues’ title winners had played in quite a few years.
The Saints were led by their junior guard and game MVP, Ja’Quan Newton.
Newton had a costly turnover late in the game but he made up for it by making his team’s last five points and giving his team the win.
He threw the ball away at the 2:23 mark in the fourth quarter, allowing Imhotep to tie the ball game at 45-all.
“I made a dumb play…but I’m going to learn from that and know not to do that ever again,” said Newton about his turnover.
Panthers guard Deryl Bagwell gave his team the lead at 1:25 in the fourth quarter by hitting a corner 3-pointer. This put his team up 48-47, but that would be the last time the Panthers would lead in the game.
From then on, Newton put the team on his shoulders and willed his team to the win. With one minute left Newton converted an and-one play to put his team up 49-48. This would ultimately be the deciding basket.
“I knew it sealed the deal for us when I made the and-one,” Newton said. “That was a big play.”
“I expect a lot out of Ja’Quan. I know he’s got a lot of big fans because he makes those plays at the end of the game but guess what? He’s got a lot of guts but I know he’s better than he played tonight,” Saints coach Carl Arrigale said.
Neumann-Goretti had held a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter as late as the 4:50 mark. They had been in the lead since they made their first basket of the second quarter.
It had seemed that they would control the tempo of the game and end up with a pretty easy win. That was not the case, as Imhotep’s Brandon Austin led his team back into contention.
“He played well but we expect him to play well. Nothing out of the ordinary,” Imhotep Coach Andre Noble said about Austin’s performance.
Austin scored 20 points, with 16 of those coming in the second half.
“I came out slow in the first half and I tried to come out and put the team on my back in the second half,” Austin said.
Austin helped spur the comeback by forcing back to back turnovers late in the fourth quarter. The second turnover led to an Austin assist to Bagwell for a 3-pointer, bringing them within three.
Austin nearly hit the game tying shot in the closing seconds but his 3-point attempt came up short and ended up in a tip in for Jalil Myers at the buzzer.
The last time a Public League and Catholic League team met in this game was 1980.
“I guess it will go down in history as having not been played in 33 years but if they beat us two weeks from now it means nothing,” Arrigale said.
“This game means a lot, nobody has done this from the past teams,” Newton said.
These two teams could very well end up meeting each other in two weeks in the state playoffs.
“You lose by one, a couple bang-bang plays, couple shots they make and free-throws we don’t, it’s obvious what we can take away from this game,” Noble said clearly frustrated.
One thing Imhotep can take away from this game was how successful their zone was against Neumann-Goretti star John Davis.
The Towson commit was held to only seven points on the night.
“We don’t do a good job getting Johnny the ball against the zone and Johnny doesn’t do a good job moving into the creases,” Arrigale said. “He got a little frustrated tonight and that’s usually not his game.”
Although the zone was working effectively Imhotep started playing more man-to-man in the second half. It was in the second half that Davis scored five of his seven points.
“Neumann’s a good team and we can’t show them something 50 times in a row. We have to mix it up,” Noble Said.
With the win Neumann-Goretti will take District 12′s top seed in the PIAA Class AA playoffs, while Imhotep will be taking the two seed.