After beating Stevenson, the top-ranked Class 4A team in Illinois, last weekend, the Chaminade Red Devils from St. Louis had a shot at third-ranked Chicago St. Rita on Saturday at the Highland Optimist Shootout.
They also had the top junior recruit in the country with a clear look at a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer, but Jayson Tatum’s shot from the left wing was just off the mark as St. Rita held on for a wild 77-75 overtime victory before a Shootout-record standing-room only crowd of more than 3,000.
“I’ll take it 10 out of 10 times,” said Chaminade coach Frank Bennett, knowing his 6-foot-9 junior star —who led all scorers with 34 points — has won numerous games for the Red Devils (9-3) the past three years. “The play that we drew up worked to a ‘T,’ he got a good look at it. Like we talked about after the game, that’s what we’re going to live with.
“If we had to do it again, we would draw it up again and go through him again.”
Tennessee State point guard recruit Armani Chaney sank two free throws with 6.3 seconds remaining for St. Rita’s eventual margin of victory. However, it took two free throws from Brandon McCoy with 0.9 seconds remaining in regulation just to get the Mustangs (11-2) to overtime.
Explosive Kentucky recruit Charles Matthews scored 31 points for St. Rita before fouling out with 3:07 remaining in overtime. Tatum led all scorers with 34 points and also had eight rebounds while Tulane recruit Kain Harris tossed in 19 for St. Rita.
Tatum is used to seeing elite players all the time, but enjoyed facing Matthews.
“He’s a great player,” Tatum said. “Great players in moments like this step up big and that’s what he did to help his team get the ‘W.’ It was a good atmosphere. We played a good team and they’ve got one of the top player sin the senior class.
“In overtime, a few mistakes, a missed shot and we lost.”
Tatum dropped in four 3-pointers, getting off long shots and taking defenders to the basket amazingly quick for a 6-9 player. He had 15 points in the first half despite sitting out several minutes of the first quarter after picking up his second foul.
Matthews piled up his points in bunches, scoring 13 of his 17 first-half points during the opening quarter. He was able to stop quickly and rise above any defender to get off shots, showing explosive moves off the dribble.
He had 10 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter to keep Chaminade from pulling away.
Chaminade junior Tyler Cook was a force with 19 points and 11 rebounds.
“The beauty of our team is we’re a senior-dominated team and our guys have been through it for a long time,” said St. Rita coach Gary DeCesare, whose team won a game Friday night in Metropolis. “It was a team win, everybody contributed. When Charles fouled out everybody else had to step up and we talk about that in practice all the time.”
DeCesare also praised a Chaminade team that erased a 41-32 deficit early in the third quarter and used a hot run to turn that deficit into a seven-point lead before the quarter ended.
“They’re a very good team and they’re a junior-dominated team,” DeCesare said. “They ought to be unbelivable next year.”
The huge crowd was treated to an electric display of big-time basketball with up to eight Division I recruits on the floor at one time.
Am emphatic dunk by the 6-9 Cook midway through the fourth quarter seemed to rattle the entire basket assembly attached to the gym rafters.
The two elite teams battled down the stretch like thoroughbred racehorses, neither willing to give an inch.
Tatum threw down a dunk of his own missed shot with 1:35 remaining in regulation, but shots by Matthews and Harris tied it 65-65. Cook put Chaminade on top with 20.8 seconds to play, but McCoy was fouled on a loose ball with 0.9 seconds remaining in regulation.
McCoy sank both free throws despite a long delay between the first and second foul shots.
A late turnover on a pass to Cook might have won the game for the Red Devils. Chaminade had 15 of its 21 turnovers in the second half and overtime.
“They started pressuring us,” Bennett said. “We had careless turnovers down the stretch.”
Chaminade seemed to gain an edge when Matthews fouled out early in the OT and Tatum tied it 75-75 on a conventional 3-point play with 23.6 seconds remaining. Chaney sank his free throws with 6.3 seconds left before Tatum’s final 3-point try glanced off the rim.
“They’re hard nosed and they’re tough defensively,” Bennett said. “Those are the type of teams we need to go up against to get better down the stretch.”
Tatum and Matthews were both mobbed after the game for autographs and photos, taking time to sign for dozens of fans both young and old. Highland Shootout officials marveled at the crowd and the excitement of their marquee game.
“It was a fun game, I just wish we would have come out on top,” Tatum said. “I feel like all three of the games we lost we shouls have won, but we can’t go back now. You’ve got to look forward.”