FROSTBURG — Minutes after Bishop O’Connell ended a three-year break from the ACIT with a 70-68 win over Mount Saint Joseph, Knights Head Coach Joe Wootten announced, “It’s great to be back.”
Though Mount St. Joe’s did everything in its power to keep those words buried by mounting comeback after comeback, eventually the pair of Melo Trimble and Junior Etou proved too much, and the Gaels ran out of time for a final look at a win in an action-packed Game Two on the opening day of the 53rd games at Frostburg State University.
Trimble, a smooth-shooting junior point guard who has already committed to play at Maryland, scored a game-high 24 points, made five three-pointers, grabbed five rebounds and dished out five assists. Etou, a 6-foot, 7-inch senior from the Democratic Republic of Congo, dominated the boards with a dozen rebounds and made 9 of 10 field goals to finish with 21 points. Roy Butts added 13 points.
Trimble and Etou provided consistency in what was a very back-and-forth affair, where O’Connell would build a lead and began to pull, only to have Mt. St. Joe’s connect for a three-pointer, or string together a few shots and get themselves right back in the mix.
The Knights, the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference champions and No. 3 team in the Washington Post Metro area, took a 10-6 lead on a Trimble floater before Jaylen Adams’ three-pointer cut the lead to 10-9 with 3:30 left in the first quarter. With 2:46 remaining, Trimble fed Etou to make it 14-9, but the Gaels closed the score to 16-15 on a pair of free throws by Daveyon Barnes to end the first quarter.
St. Joe’s, ranked third in The Baltimore Sun’s poll, took their last lead of the night on a bucket by Kameron Williams 11 seconds into the second quarter, though they would tie the score on four more occasions. Williams went on to score a team-high 23 points, tallying 10 in the second quarter alone. He has committed to play at Ohio State.
Trimble answered with a three to make it 19-17 Knights, and the score would remain within four points for the remainder of the half before entering halftime tied at 34.
O’Connell started the second half on an 8-0 run that lasted half of the third quarter. Adams ended the dry spell with 4:08 left on a three-pointer that cut the score to 42-37 and finished with 12 points.
A shot by Trimble pushed the lead to eight points at 50-42 with 1:33 to go in the third, but Williams and Jordan McNeil both hit field goals to trim the lead to 50-46 at the close of the third.
“The first thing we said to the kids at halftime was that we didn’t think they played as hard as they could have,” said Coach Wootten, son of former DeMatha Head Coach Morgan Wootten. “To their credit, they came right out after the break and played really good ball.”
A bucket by Barnes cut the score to 50-48, and he then made one of two free throws to make it 50-49 at 7:30.
The Knights pulled away again and got a steal and a dunk from Etou with 5:40 to play to make it 57-49. They were still up eight points (61-53) after a pair of Trimble free throws with 3:05 left, but the Gaels scored seven of the next nine points to whittle the count down to 63-60 on a Williams’ basket with 1:53 remaining.
St. Joe’s got two huge threes from Phil Booth, who finished with 15 points, in the final 30 seconds that helped get the Gaels as close as 69-68 with 5.4 seconds left. The Knights, though, went 3-for-6 at the foul line in the final 33 seconds to stay out in front.
“They were making some unbelievably tough shots out there,” Wootten said of Mt. St. Joe’s. “We were forcing them to try and win it from the outside and they almost pulled it off with some great shooting when they needed it.”
Bishop O’Connell (32-5) plays today at 9:15 against La Lumiere. Mount Saint Joseph (30-4) plays at 5:45 today against DeMatha.
Chris Appel is a sportswriter for the Times-News. Contact him at email@example.com.