TRENTON, N.J. -- Austin Freeman hit a key pair of late free throws and scored 23 points, lifting DeMatha Catholic H.S. to a 51-48 victory over Linden (NJ) H.S. on Friday night at the Prime Time Shootout.
Freeman, a husky 6-5 junior wing committed to Georgetown, stepped to the foul line with 16.7 seconds left and calmly sank a pair of free throws that put DeMatha up 51-48. Only a pair of errant three-point attempts in the final seconds prevented Linden from sending the game into overtime.
Sophomore point guard Desmond Wade and forward Charles Miller missed quality looks beyond the arc, sending the Tigers to another heartbreaking loss against a nationally regarded opponent. Earlier this season, Linden nearly toppled Garden State powers St. Anthony's and St. Benedict's Prep.
DeMatha played much of the game without its big men, 6-9 junior power forward Jerai Grant and 6-8 sophomore center Chris Braswell. Both were rendered ineffective as Linden used a smaller, quicker lineup to bolt out to an early 15-6 first quarter lead.
"Linden went small, and we didn't want to have a 6-9 guy chasing around a 6-foot guys, so I think it was smart to do what we did," DeMatha Head Coach Mike Jones said. "Linden is very good."
Trailing 21-16 at the half, the Stags were able to grab the lead in the second half, but never could pull away from the pesky Tigers. Freeman, who scored 12 of his 23 points in the second half, gave the Stags a 41-38 edge by scoring on a fast break with 4:13 remaining.
He scored the Stags' next two buckets to provide DeMatha a 45-43 lead with 1:51 to play. Linden could have forged a tie with 1:33 to play, but junior guard Darrell Lampley hit just one of two free throws, drawing the Tigers within 45-44.
The Stags, now 24-0 this season, also benefited from some good fortune over the game's final minute and change.
Virginia Tech bound point guard Nigel Munson (12 points) got the roll on an ugly looking runner with 1:12 to play, and Braswell scored his only basket of the game when a loose ball found his hands for an easy dunk with 38 ticks left.
Both baskets restored three-point leads for the Stags, but Linden countered with a pair of free throws to cut the deficit to 49-48 with 21.6 seconds left.
Freeman, who earned game MVP honors, was an efficient nine of 13 from the floor. His late free throws forced the Tigers to look for the three-pointer in the waning seconds.
"We got a great look from Desmond, and Darrell Lampley kept the ball alive and got the ball out to Charles Miller," Linden Head Coach Phil Colicchio said. "Charles Miller's shot was in and out, and you can't ask for more than that as a coach."
Wade scored just 10 points, but earned game MVP honors for Linden as he put a lot of pressure on the Stags' defense with his quickness and penetrating ability. Swingman L.J. McGhee topped the Tigers in scoring with 15 points.
Freeman carried DeMatha offensively, scoring 23 of his team's 51 points.
"Austin is very good, but I think we should congratulate our team," Jones said. "We fought through some difficult circumstances against a very good opponent, and we were able to pull out a win when we maybe didn't play our best."