The Washington Post
Cadets rally for Behan, stun Panthers in WCAC final
ST. JOHN’S 65, PAUL VI 63
When it was all over, Patrick Behan was surrounded by movement.
St. John’s students streamed from the Bender Arena bleachers onto the court, Paul VI fans made for the exits, Cadets players raced to get their hands on the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship trophy, and a horde of photographers hustled to get the defining shot from a 65-63 St. John’s victory that will be remembered in the D.C. area for a long time.
Behan stood still, his face buried in the right shoulder of his top assistant. Nine months ago, the coach had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) at 34. This basketball season had been equal parts grueling and joyful, and in the aftermath of Monday night’s dramatic finish at American University, Behan felt himself overwhelmed by a wave of mixed emotion.
“I’m very happy right now, but there’s also some sadness,” he said later. “I think about my mom and dad and wish they were here.
I think about the last couple of years and everything that’s happened. I can’t put into words what it’s like right now for me, emotionally or physically. But I will say: The game of basketball is a beautiful thing.”
All year, the Cadets had played inspired basketball. Coming off a .500 season, they rode a trio of playmakers — senior Malik Mack and juniors Donnie Freeman and Daquan Davis — on a redemption arc. After a consistent and impressive regular season, they entered the WCAC tournament as the No. 2 seed.
“They’re a real team,” Behan said of this group. “When we bring in a [huddle], we say ‘ Cadets family’ — and you could really feel that from them all season.”
Monday’s final pitted them against the one program that had played even better. The Panthers — replete with Division I talent — had served as the big, bad favorite in the WCAC all winter, pummeling a parade of conference opponents in an undefeated regular season. They entered this tournament not only as the top seed but also as an attraction to be seen. Their reputation went far beyond the D.C. suburbs, the hype machine extolling the Panthers as one of the best teams in the country.
From the start, it was clear the Cadets (29-2) were undaunted. The teams traded baskets throughout the first half, burning off nervous pregame energy with a breakneck pace. The Cadets led the Panthers (28-3) by one point at halftime and slowly grew that lead after the break.
But the Panthers responded with a late run, taking their first lead of the second half with just under two minutes left. With the score tied at 63, the Cadets got the ball back with 32 seconds remaining. As Davis dribbled downcourt, Behan sidled up to the referee and glanced at the clock.
When the scoreboard hit 10 seconds, Behan opted not to take a timeout.
Instead, he wanted his guard to go win the game.
“Go,” Behan yelled, his final instruction of the night.
Davis sped to his right, beating his man without a ball screen or a crossover. Once in the lane, he split a pair of big men and laid the ball in the hoop, giving his team a title that won’t soon be forgotten.
“I can’t describe how much [Behan] means to us,” Freeman said. “This will always be remembered as the year that Coach was fighting. But we fought with him. He never fought alone.”