The smile on Southern coach Meredith Smith's face as well-wishers congratulated him in the lobby of Georgetown's McDonough Arena late Saturday night told the story.
Smith's No. 2-ranked Bulldogs (8-1) had just disposed of Archbishop Carroll, 72-46, in the championship game of the D.C. Armory Board-Trills Holiday Classic. Just as pleasing was the manner in which they prevailed, carrying out what Smith preaches every day in practice.
"Our defense was tremendous," Smith said. "That's the way we like to play basketball."
Southern used its defense to open a 21-6 lead after a 14-point run midway in the first half, sparked by senior co-captains Derrick Watkins and Kwame Evans and sophomore point guard Damon Cason.
Then late in the third quarter Southern ran off 10 straight points off defensive pressure to build a 51-29 bulge after three quarters, capped by a rim-wrecking slam from junior center Abdul Brown that put the exclamation mark on this effort.
"They let us play basketball tonight," said Smith, who spoke out about the number of fouls called in Friday's 92-84, semifinal win over Parkdale. "Our defensive execution carried us. It caused Carroll a lot of problems and never let them get any kind of offensive rhythm." Carroll hit 15 of 60 field-goal tries.
In Friday's other semifinal, Archbishop Carroll, which lost only to Archbishop Molloy (N.Y.) in nine previous games, had worked its offense to near perfection in dismantling favored Dunbar (D.C.), which was ranked No. 3 in the D.C. area, by 19 points.
The Bulldogs never allowed that offense to get in gear in the title game. And while the clock ran down in the final quarter, the only question remained who, among the three logical Bulldogs, would be the tournament MVP.
Evans, Watkins and Cason put up MVP numbers in the three-day event to earn spots on the All-Tournament team. Evans scored 72 points, grabbed 19 rebounds and had five blocks and seven steals. Watkins scored 56 points on 24 of 36 shots from the field, had 12 rebounds, five blocks and six steals.
But Cason, who scored 42 points and handed out 14 assists and grabbed 13 steals, garnered the MVP honors. "Damon has a lot of game savvy. He knows how to run the offense and get everybody involved," Smith said.
Two other sophomores turned in big efforts for Southern. Forwards Kevin Simpson finished with 36 points and 18 rebounds and Dante Williams added 34 points and 13 rebounds off the bench during the tournament.
"Dante played extremely well, especially against Parkdale when we needed it most," Smith said.
The championship might move Southern into the national top 25 this week, as it was mentioned among teams to watch in last week's USA Today poll. "We still haven't reached our peak," Smith said. "We have a lot of young players and they are getting better all the time."
* BALTIMORE COUNTY INVITATIONAL: Bernard Hopkins' offensive rebound and off-balance jumper gave Overlea (4-0) a 73-72 upset of No. 7 Towson Catholic (5-4) in the Gold Division final at Perry Hall.
Fifth-ranked Lake Clifton (6-1) outscored No. 12 Catonsville (6-1), 16-4, during the last 4 minutes, 39 seconds of the game en route to an 86-74 win in the Red Division championship game.
Norman Nolan's 31 points, 22 rebounds and nine blocked shots led Milford Mill (5-1) to a 70-55 victory over C. Milton Wright (4-1) in the Blue Division final.
Luther Alexander scored 19 to pace No. 11 Calvert Hall's 58-40 win over Perry Hall in the White Division final.
* WES UNSELD NEW YEAR'S CLASSIC: Steve Kraning's 25 points led No. 10 Loyola (8-2) to a 73-65 victory over Mount St. Joseph (2-7) in the championship game at Catonsville Community College. The Dons' win ended Broadneck's four-year reign as tournament champ.
Wes Unseld Jr. scored five points in helping Loyola win the tournament named after his father.
* BOB PASCAL TOURNAMENT: Rich Riffle scored 17 and Bob Evans added 15 to lead Severna Park (6-0) to an 86-67 victory over host Northeast (1-4) in the championship game.
* MEADE CHRISTMAS TOURNAMENT: Ravon Austin scored 15 points and Austin Johnson added 14 to lead Old Mill (4-1) over No. 20 Meade (3-2), 64-62, in the final.
* LANSDOWNE TOURNAMENT: Ronald Wallace scored 15 points and Terrence Suber added 13, as City (4-1) defeated Chesapeake of Baltimore County (2-3), 80-62, in the championship game.
* GILMAN TOURNAMENT: Despite 15 points apiece from Victor Carter-Bey and Jimmy Fields, Gilman lost its tournament final, 73-54, to Sidwell Friends of Washington.
* IAABO CHRISTMAS INVITATIONAL: Junior Kris Bryant scored 22, sophomore Emily Yanero added 13 and tournament MVP Erica McCauley contributed 12 to lead top-ranked Mount Hebron (6-1) to a 60-41 victory over third-ranked Old Mill (5-1) in the final at Parkdale.
The championship game pitted the two-time defending Class 2A state champion Vikings against defending Class 4A state champion Old Mill.
* NOEL CLASSIC: No. 4 St. Mary's (8-2) repeated as tournament champion with a 49-42 win over No. 6 Broadneck (5-1) in the championship game at Archbishop Spalding. Bridget Smith scored 15 to lead the Saints and Randall Goldsborough added 14.