HYATTSVILLE — When DeMatha guard Justin Moore tore his ACL in the first week of January, he didn’t have a choice when it came to a workout routine. The injury sidelined the now junior guard for months, but on the contrary, it empowered an underdeveloped upper body, something college coaches and scouts often got on him for.
Over the next six months, Moore’s workout schedule consisted of a few things: Crushing weights and chiseling his frame, so when winter rolled around, he’ll produce with physical maturity rather than relying on pure talent.
“Since I couldn’t play, I was doing a lot of upper body stuff,” Moore said.
On Saturday night in No. 1 DeMatha’s rout of Florida stalwart Oak Ridge in the National Hoopfest, 84-69, Moore reaped the benefits of all those hours in the weight room, as he motored up and down the floor with his stronger self to produce a game-high 25 points on 9-for-10 shooting. He also connected on all five shots from behind the arc and had a 12-point second quarter in which the Stags were up 24 at halftime.
“When I hit a couple shots, it feels like the basket gets bigger,” Moore said. “After that, it’s over.”
And really, though, after Moore dropped his first bucket of the night, it was all but over. The junior got going with a layup off a pick-and-roll that gave DeMatha a 6-2 lead. When Oak Ridge hung around after eight minutes, trailing 23-16, Moore took over. Two free throws off a technical foul pushed the lead to nine, and on the same possession, Moore’s 3-ball upped the Stags’ advantage to 28-16. Moore hit another trey and finished two crafty layups that ignited a 13-0 run before half, which swelled DeMatha’s lead from 33-22 to 46-22.
ITS LIT 🔥 @DeMathaHoops are ROLLING through the first half
— MonumentalSportsNet (@MonSportsNet) December 10, 2017
Moore opened the second half the same way he ended the first, by canning a triple. This time the Stags’ lead grew to 48-24, and not long after, another Moore triple backed a 9-0 run that gave DeMatha its largest cushion of the night, 77-35.
In the first quarter, Moore played with his bulky knee brace, but in the second, he ditched it. Wearing the brace often creates barriers with him mentally, which prompted Moore to take it off. Afterward, he said his knee “feels good.”
“He’s not 100 percent, I think he’ll tell you,” DeMatha coach Mike Jones said. “When he gets that brace, I think it goes to another level or two. His ability to get around and shoot the ball easier — he’s really toned his body up — but when he gets that brace off, he plays freely. He’s gotten a lot better, but he’s got a lot more in him.”
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For the most part, it’s a statement win for the Stags. At one point, the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference favorites staked a 42-point lead and were never under duress, shooting a cool 62.5 percent (30-for-48) for the game, 50 percent from deep (8-for-16) and assisted on 66.7 percent of baskets (20 of 30). Midway through the fourth quarter, they unloaded their bench. Keep in mind, Oak Ridge boasts 5-star recruit Emmitt Williams (21 points and nine rebounds) and finished 2016-17 ranked 11th in Florida by MaxPreps.
DeMatha, which hasn’t won a WCAC title since 2010, will surely get tested Sunday night, as Archbishop Wood awaits — the 20th-ranked team nationally by MaxPreps.
“Archbishop Wood is really good; we got to take a totally different mental approach,” Jones said. “Once we get into our league play, every night is a dog fight.”
Sophomore center Hunter Dickinson pieced together a solid performance, posting 12 points on a perfect 6-for-6 shooting to go along with six assists, five rebounds and two blocks. Junior guard Earl Timberlake, a transfer from Rock Creek Christian, scored 21 points on 7-for-11 shooting and pulled down a team-high nine rebounds. Junior guard Jahmir Young added 15 points, four points and three assists.
But Saturday night was about Moore, who suffered and persevered through the scariest injury of them all. With the right mentality, he’s come out better than ever before and earned MVP honors on the national stage. Afterward, he received a turquoise-toned, glass trophy, and when he ambled back to the locker room, former DeMatha standout Markelle Fultz — the top pick in the 2017 NBA Draft and current Philadelphia 76ers guard — was there to congratulate him. Fultz dapped up his old playing partner, snatched the trophy and playfully pretended to place it in a nearby trashcan. Moore wanted his well-earned hardware back.
“Hey! Watch yourself,” Moore told Fultz. “I worked hard for that.”