Catholic coach Mike Curry knew his team’s chances of advancing to the state tournament in Birmingham would depend on how the Knights handled Dadeville’s 6-foot-8, 230-pound center, P.J. Eason. More specifically, how the 6-7, 185-pound DJ Jamerson would handle the challenge.
“I had been ragging him all week,” Curry said. “I told them they had a kid that was seven feet and everything else. He was like, ‘So? I’m ready.’ He responded to the challenge. And he always does, I knew he would. I was just poking at him. DJ Jamerson was really good tonight.”
Jamerson and Eason treated the crowd to a great display of basketball fundamentals in shot blocking, post defense, rebounding and shooting, but Jamerson’s teammates were the difference as Catholic defeated Dadeville 76-58 in the 3A Southeast Regional championship game at Garrett Coliseum on Tuesday afternoon.
Catholic (20-5) won its 15th consecutive game to advance to the 3A state tournament for the second consecutive year. The Knights will play the winner of the Northwest Regional finals between Winfield and Danville on Monday at Birmingham’s Bill Harris Arena at 11:30 a.m.
“It’s always a great honor to go to the final four at any level,” Curry said. “We’re excited to be going back. Hopefully, we can have better results than we had last year.”
Catholic was making just its sixth regional finals appearance and will be making just its fourth trip to the state tournament in the 28-year history of the regional format. Last year, the Knights lost to Talladega in the 4A semifinals.
Dadeville ends the season at 9-2, playing just eight regular-season games in a scheduled scaled back by COVID-19, facing area rivals Beulah and Reeltown in four games and LaFayette and Elmore County in the other four.
“When we played Trinity at home (in the regional semifinal), that’s the best we’ve played,” Dadeville coach Jessie Foster said. “We shot the ball pretty good that night. But we were home and you play better at home. It’s a lot different when you’re playing at home. You’ve got all this space (surrounding the court at Garrett Coliseum) and when you’re playing at home, you’ve got these walls around them. I can tell (if affected the players) when they go 0 for 19 (on 3-point shots).”
Daquan Doss had 10 points for Dadeville, but the bulk of the scoring for the Tigers came from Eason, who finished with 23 points, 14 rebounds and five blocked shots, including one of Jamerson’s shots.
Jamerson countered with 19 points, 11 rebounds and seven blocked shots, including three of Eason’s shots. The senior said he never needed any encouragement from his coach about the Tigers. Facing Eason brought its own personal challenge.
“It makes me even want to play harder,” Jamerson said. “It’s someone equal to my height and they have the same ability as me, so it gets me amped up to play even harder.”
And as the two banged around in the paint and contested every shot put up in the opening moments of the game, Jamerson made adjustments to his offensive strategy.
“Of course, you would like to change a couple of things,” he said. “If he blocks my shot and I know I didn’t go up with aggression, in my mind I say to myself, all right, I just have to go at him a little harder. Be more crafty, be patient, pump fake and then go to the basket or pump fake and then jump shot. So it’s just simple basketball fundamentals.”
With his team struggling to hit anything from the perimeter, Foster and his star became increasingly frustrated as the Catholic defense tightened around Eason.
“Both of those guys are athletic,” he said. “P.J., he didn’t get to start playing until after Christmas. Then he was quarantined (for COVID-19 contact tracing). He missed Senior Night. Trinity is probably the biggest thing we’ve seen until (Tuesday). They (Catholic) gave us trouble on defense. I told the guys coming in they would probably be the best defensive team we’ve played all year and it was. That was a good ballclub.”
And while Eason didn’t have much offense from his teammates, Jamerson had plenty from his. LJ Green had 24 points for Catholic, followed by 12 from Myles Butler and 10 from Matthew Reardon as the Knights eased out to a double-digit lead in the first half. Dadeville pulled within 44-40 with 1:26 left in the third quarter before Catholic shifted gears and went on a 9-2 run to put the game out of reach.
“We just got together and said we’ve got to play a little better and we just kept on pushing with our energy,” Jamerson said. “That helped us get our lead.”