Fifth-ranked Gonzaga waited and waited for No. 4 Paul VI’s run to come Monday night. The Panthers describe themselves as “a 10-0 run waiting to happen,” instant offense that can be deployed at any moment.
The Panthers score in bunches behind an offense that slams the gas pedal and a defense that plays inside opponents’ jerseys.
For four quarters on Monday, Gonzaga waited for it all to kick in, to play back on its heels and cling to a Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship. But that burst never came and Gonzaga refused to yield in a 68-55 win at American University’s Bender Arena.
Senior guard Chris Lykes, the two-time conference player of the year, hit a scoop-shot layup with three minutes to play that put the Eagles (26-5) up 16. He buried a three-pointer two possessions later to push the margin to 17 points and all but ice Gonzaga’s second conference tournament title in three years .
“Even with three minutes left, up 17, I knew they had a chance to come back,” Lykes said.
“You never feel like you have it in the bag,” Gonzaga Coach Steve Turner said.
But then Lykes hit that pair of shots. Freshman forward Terrance Williams made two free throws. Paul VI Coach Glenn Farello shook hands with Lykes during a dead ball with under two minutes remaining.
Lykes swung his arm around junior forward Myles Dread, who scored 15 points Monday and 19 in a 33-point semifinal win over No. 2 St. John’s on Sunday. Lykes told Dread, “We got it. We’re going to win a championship.”
Dread started crying. “We just worked so hard for this,” he said through tears at midcourt afterward.
Paul VI ran Gonzaga ragged in their first meeting in January. The Panthers (26-5) beat the Eagles in transition as junior guard Brandon Slater tallied a season-high 34 points.
On Monday, he scored 15.
Lykes, who averages 17.7 points, only had 11 points in that first meeting.
But Monday night, before a packed house, he poured in 20 to lead all scorers.
“It puts him up there as one of the greatest players in Gonzaga history,” Turner said of Lykes, the school’s all-time leading scorer.
Gonzaga controlled the tempo in the title game with reliable rebounding and unrelenting defense. Paul VI’s scoring spurt wasn’t inevitable, Turner told his team. It was preventable. “I trusted them tonight,” he said.
It paid off with another title for Gonzaga, which will turn its attention to this week’s DC State Athletic Association tournament. The Eagles split the regular season WCAC title with the Panthers, who will compete in the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association tournament.
“We just stopped everybody,” junior guard Prentiss Hubb said. “Don’t let them get anything at all.”
Paul VI senior Aaron Thompson (15 points) got hot in the fourth quarter with seven straight points, but Hubb and Mike Myers responded with a pair of threes. The Eagles refused to let the tide turn.
“We decided we weren’t going to buckle,” Dread said, “ that we’d be the tougher team.”