Aces Nation loves an upset, and they sure got a good one on Wednesday night.
LM opened the game on a 14-4 run and delivered a second-half knockout in a 64-52 second round state playoff stunner against Roman Catholic. The Aces dispatched the state’s top-ranked 4A team with stingy defense, patient offense and clutch, confident play keyed by senior guard JaQuan Johnson.
With the Aces clinging to a 32-31 advantage towards the end of the third quarter, Johnson erupted for seven straight points, including an acrobatic three-point play to close the frame. Johnson added six more in an 11-4 run to start the fourth that pushed the Aces’ lead to 50-35 and effectively closed the door on the Cahilites, ranked #22 in the nation by MaxPreps.
Roman led briefly by one in the second quarter and came within a point twice, but each time, the Aces had an answer. When the Cahilites took their first and only lead at 18-17, Justin McFadden '14 countered with a layup and Jule Brown '15 followed with a trey to ignite a 9-1 LM spurt to close the half. Roman narrowed the gap at 30-29 in the third, but McFadden answered again with a tough layup in traffic. After another Roman score, Johnson went to work.
Johnson finished with a game-high 20 points, with 18 coming in the second half. McFadden added 14 points and seven rebounds. Brown had 11 points and eight boards. Corey Sherman ’15 added ten points and two treys, including a clutch three in the fourth that kept the LM lead in double-digits. Steve Pendleton ’15 (nine points) was a defensive menace, harassing Roman’s guards and coming up with three big steals in the second half. Oliver Henry ’14 came off the bench to provide a huge spark, drawing a Roman offensive foul in the first half and hauling in two key rebounds late in the fourth quarter after McFadden had fouled out of the game.
The win was Coach Gregg Downer’s 30th state playoff victory and puts the Aces in the state quarterfinals for the seventh time in his tenure. The Aces limited Roman’s high-flying offense to just two three-pointers on the night. The 64 points scored by the Aces were the most allowed by Roman in a loss this season.
For those who made the trip, it was a rocking, unforgettable night in Archbishop Ryan’s old-school gym. Rickety wooden bleachers, fans sitting just inches from the court, and a Dawg Pound that was absolutely electric. As the closing seconds ticked off the clock, LM's frenzied student section erupted onto the floor to celebrate another improbable victory for the Maroon & White.
The Aces have done this dance before, but winning – especially in the state playoffs against a big-time opponent -- never gets old.
LM will take on La Salle in the state quarterfinals on Saturday. Time and location TBD. Complete game details will be posted on aceshoops.com.