No. 2 St. John’s grinds out another WCAC win against No. 5 McNamara

WASHINGTON POST: Some 20 minutes after his team earned a 75-67 win over Bishop McNamara on Tuesday night, St. John’s guard Malik Mack was laughing in disbelief at how intense the final minutes were. The Cadets, playing on their home court, led by double digits most of the night — but this was the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, where even comfortable wins can be punishing.

“It’s like that every single night,” he said, shaking his head. “Every single night is a battle, and it just never ends, no matter what the score is.”

Coming into Tuesday, No. 2 St. John’s (24-2) and No. 5 McNamara (22-6) sat in second and third place in the WCAC. Paul VI has pulled away from the pack; Tuesday’s 101-73 win at Bishop O’Connell boosted the Panthers to 14-0 in conference play. But trailing Paul VI are a half-dozen talented contenders that have beaten up on each other week after week. St. John’s, McNamara, DeMatha, Gonzaga, O’Connell and Good Counsel entered Tuesday with winning records in league play.

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Of that group, the Cadets have emerged as perhaps the top challenger to the Panthers’ supremacy. With just two conference losses — at Paul VI and vs. Good Counsel — St. John’s has pieced together a consistent and impressive campaign.

“We’ve put ourselves in a good spot, but it’s nowhere near where we want to be,” junior forward Donnie Freeman said. “We’re in striking distance of a really good year.”

The WCAC does not determine a regular season champion, meaning no team can earn a trophy by dominating two months of league play. Legacies are made at the conference tournament, which will be held next weekend.

“Week to week, we don’t think about the standings as much,” Mack said. “Sometimes you get a sense that one game is a big game, but otherwise we’re just trying to win every night. It’s about going 1-0.”

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The Cadets came out red-hot Tuesday, greeting the Mustangs with a barrage of three-pointers. Freeman had three of his team’s six first-quarter triples, which helped the Cadets build an early double-digit lead. That type of hot streak could not and did not last — the Cadets went cold just before halftime, and McNamara climbed back to within five at the break.

Photo: The Cadets, pictured in the preseason, have set themselves up as a strong contender in next weekend’s WCAC tournament. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

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