FROSTBURG — Defense didn’t win a championship last night, but it carried Bishop O’Connell into the championship game of the 53rd annual ACIT.
Melo Trimble scored 28 points and Junior Etou had a double-double with 12 points and 15 rebounds, and both had game-changing defensive plays in the final minute as O’Connell edged La Lumiere 65-60 to set up an all-Virginia final tonight at Bobcat Arena.
O’Connell (33-5), a three-time ACIT champion from Arlington, Va., will take on Benedictine (33-4), of Richmond, Va., in tonight’s 8:15 finale. Benedictine’s best finish was second in 2011.
It was another down-to-the wire battle for both. O’Connell had edged Mount St. Joe’s 70-68 while LaLumiere beat DeMatha 51-50 in first-rounders on Thursday.
Friday’s semifinal was tied 59-59 after a three-point play by La Lumiere’s Jalen James with 1:01 to play.
Munis Tutu came up with a steal at halfcourt and the Lakers, with James dashing to the basket for a layup, appeared headed to their first lead since early in the third quarter. But Etou, a 6-foot-7 senior, blocked the shot and a few seconds later Trimble was fouled and swished both free throws to give the Panthers a 61-59 lead.
After a foul shot by James cut it to 61-60, Jamall Gregory, after a hard off-the-ball foul, calmly hit both shots to give O’Connell a 63-60 edge with 17 seconds remaining.
The Lakers had a final chance to tie it with a three-point shot, but Trimble’s quick hands led to a steal after a quick double-team near the top of the key, and Trimble nailed two final free throws with four seconds left for the final points, matching O’Connell’s largest lead of the night.
“There were two key plays that were huge for us. The first was Junior’s block on their break, and then having Melo run down the ball after the block,’’ said O’Connell head coach Joe Wootten. “And we played fantastic defense on the final play when we got a double team for a second on their ball-handler and Melo, with his great hands, got the steal, took the foul and made the foul shots.
“We also rebounded a lot better in the second half than in the first. They had hurt us in the first half on the boards and we talked about it at halftime and did a much better job.”
Trimble, a 6-2 junior guard headed to Maryland, scored 17 points in the second half and, unofficially, was 8 for 12 from the field and 8 for 8 from the foul line. He has scored 52 points in the first two tournament games.
Etou, who was 9 for 10 from the field in a 20-point game on Thursday, was 5 for 9 for 12 points. He has 32 points and 27 rebounds in two games.
Gregory added nine big points and Roy Butts eight for O’Connell.
Detrick Mostella led La Lumiere with 22 points, with 15 coming in the first half. Sam Longwood had 17 points and kept the Lakers in the game by scoring 11 of their 15 third-quarter points. James finished with 14 points. The trio combined for all but seven of their team’s points.
Both teams led, but neither by much, the whole night. It was 16-all after one quarter and La Lumiere, of LaPorte, Ind., led 29-27 at halftime.
Trimble hit a three-point shot, two free throws and a shot in the lane to start the second half and put O’Connell on top 34-31 at the six-minute mark. The Panthers kept the lead the rest of the quarter, but it was just 47-44 after a Trimble drive in the final seconds of the period.
The game was tied four times in the final five minutes, the first 48-48 after a bucket by Marin Maric with 5:15 left. A big dunk off a rebound by Gregory, his second of the night, put O’Connell on top again, but two foul shots by James tied it again seconds later. Etou scored in the lane, but Longwood answered for the Lakers, knotting it 52-52 at the 3:05 mark.
Trimble hit along the baseline to put the Panthers back in front 54-52, then drove the lane and fed Etou, whose three-point play made it 57-52 with just over two minutes to go.
That set the stage for the Lakers’ final run, with James tying it the final time with his three-point play, 59-59, setting the stage for Etou’s game-changing blocked shot.
Mike Mathews is a Cumberland Times-News sportswriter. Write to him at email@example.com.