After his team was blown out by St. Frances on Friday night, Calvert Hall coach Mark Amatucci pulled his backcourt of Juan Dixon and Aaron Herbert into a room outside the Cardinals' locker room and told them it was up to them to lead Calvert Hall out of its inconsistent play.
The duo responded yesterday, and may have saved the season for the No. 6 Cardinals.
Trailing by as many as 16 points in the second half, Calvert Hall rallied for a 71-65 victory over host and No. 9 Cardinal Gibbons in a Catholic League game.
Dixon led all scorers with 32 points for Calvert Hall (20-7, 6-3). Patrick Ngongba added 19 and Herbert had 10 points and seven assists. Keith Phoebus led Gibbons (18-9, 4-5) with 24 points and Josh Davalli scored 18.
The Cardinals stayed within striking distance of first-place St. Frances (7-1 league) with two weeks left. Loyola, which defeated Mount St. Joseph yesterday, is second with a 5-2 mark. The first-place team receives the top seed and a bye for the postseason tournament, to be played at Goucher.
Dixon, a 6-2 junior guard, was spectacular in the fourth quarter, scoring 15 of his points, including four free throws in the final 16.5 seconds after Gibbons had pulled within 67-65.
"Our defense in the second half really picked us up," said Dixon. "We trapped full court a little bit and cut into their big lead."
The Crusaders held a 61-57 lead with 4:51 when Herbert hit a short jumper down the lane, pulling the Cardinals within two. After Gibbons turned over the ball, Ngongba grabbed his own miss under the basket and put it back in for the tying score.
Dixon gave Calvert Hall its first lead since the game's first basket on a tough baseline jumper with 1:55 left.
The Crusaders were within 63-62 when Ngongba pulled down his game-high 14th rebound, off a miss by Dixon, and laid it back in with 35 seconds remaining. Herbert hit two free throws with 24.2 seconds left before Vernon Collins' three-pointer pulled Gibbons to within 67-65.
"We needed an effort from eight or nine people if we're going to win," said Amatucci. "We were fortunate to get out with the win today."
Trailing 39-25 at halftime, Calvert Hall began pressing Gibbons midway through the third, but the Crusaders were able to break the various traps.
After Phoebus broke free for a layup, Gibbons held a 52-39 lead with 1:49 left in the third, but Calvert Hall closed the margin to 55-52 with 6:17 remaining in the game.
"We just ran out of gas," said Gibbons coach Bryan Moorhouse. "We just didn't have any legs left. We played so well early and the kids played really hard, but didn't have any gas left."