Led by sophomore WCAC Player of the Year Azzi Fudd’s 32 points, St. John’s defeated Bishop McNamara 66-51 to secure the program’s third conference championship in as many years.
“It feels amazing,” senior Malu Tshitenge-Mutombo, who finished with 13 points, told The Sabre Morning News. “I mean, it’s a three-peat, so what more could you ask? I love my team, we all played as hard as we could, and look at the outcome.”
McNamara opened the game with a quick run, gaining an early 9-3 lead. But Fudd made key plays on both ends, picking up rebounds and scoring seven to tighten the game to 12-10 by the end of the quarter. She would go on to score 12 of her team’s 13 points in the next quarter, assisted by rebounds on both sides of the court by Tshitenge-Mutombo. A McNamara three in the dying seconds of the half, barely beating the shot clock, would level the scores heading into the second half.
“We’ve always felt that the fourth quarter is going to be ours,” Head Coach Jonathan Scribner told The Washington Post. “In a lot of games this year, it was ours well before that. But even in close games, we always felt that our conditioning, work ethic and leadership would carry us to a win.”
The Mustangs looked to disrupt the momentum, starting the third with a 9-1 run to make it 32-24 and applying tough defensive pressure on the Cadet leaders. However, scores from Tshitenge-Mutombo and senior Alex Cowan cut the deficit to two at the end of the third.
“That’s why this game can be cruel,” Scribner said of the late run after the game. “A play here, a play there, can change the entire complexion of the game, and y’know, it went our way.”
St. John’s established their dominance with a 28-point quarter, with Cowan and Fudd combining for 21, to secure the victory, their 32nd of the year in 33 games.
“The first half, I think I started out a little bit slow,” Cowan told Capitol Hoops. “The second half I knew I had to get things going. I feel like I stepped up and helped my team. We played great team basketball today.”
In the final minutes of the game, the coaching staff embraced Fudd and the seniors – Cowan, Tshitenge-Mutombo, and Carly Rivera, who scored six – as they got a standing ovation from the Cadet supporters.
“We’re a family-oriented team, we love each other, so I had faith,” said Fudd, who was named a finalist for the Naismith Award on Tuesday. This was her best performance against McNamara this season. She struggled to get on the scoresheet in their first meeting, but scored 28 in the regular season rematch.
“What you saw tonight is what Azzi’s been doing all year. What you saw in that first game was abnormal,” Scribner told The Sabre after the game. “Azzi gave us everything we would expect, both offensively and defensively, rebounding. There’s nobody else like her.”
This was the third meeting between these two nationally ranked teams: St. John’s spent the entire season in the top five of the USA Today rankings, now in their sixth week at #2. Meanwhile, McNamara (29-3) held the top spot until their first game against the Cadets. But after losing all three meetings – 67-65 in OT in Forestville, 64-58 in Gallagher Gymnasium, and in the WCAC championship – the Mustangs now sit at #8.
This was one of the last games for the seniors, and Coach Scribner told The Sabre this class has 96 wins in 101 games during their time on Military Road.
Fudd described her feelings for the senior class: “I’m so proud of them, so happy I could be there with them for this.”
Scribner added: “What can I say? They’re simply the best.”
The Lady Cadets will wrap up their season with the DC State Athletic Association Class AA tournament. Having secured the #1 seed, they host eighth-seed Anacostia High School tonight at 6 pm. If they win, St. John’s will play the winner of fourth-seed Maret and fifth-seed Dunbar Friday at Georgetown University at 7 pm.