LYNN — The St. Mary’s and St. John’s Prep boys basketball teams never waver from playing top-notch opponents. Thus, it was only fitting that the Spartans and Eagles clashed against one another Monday night at Conigliaro Gymnasium.
Eagles sophomore guard Jarnel Snow-Guzman, a Lynn native, saved his best for last, scoring 14 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, including the game-winning shot at the final buzzer, for a 56-54 St. John’s victory.
“Jarnel’s a tough competitor,” Eagles coach John Dullea said. “He’s not afraid to take or make big shots. Last year he hit a game-winner at Catholic Memorial as a freshman. He’s not afraid to be in the spotlight. He’ll admit he didn’t play his best in the first half but he’s a competitor.”
Tommy O’Neil scored 16 points and Matt Relihan finished with 10.
For St. Mary’s, Jalen Echevarria poured in a game-high 21 points, Chibuikem Onwuogu scored 10 and Stephen Fama added nine.
“This was definitely a tournament atmosphere,” Spartans coach Dave Brown said. “Good crowd, nip and tuck game throughout the whole 32 minutes. We played very well for 27 minutes I’d say. We had some minor breakdowns but the difference was Jarnel taking over the fourth quarter.”
St. John’s controlled the pace of play for the majority of the first quarter but a late Spartans push granted St. Mary’s a lead after one. Down 18-14, the Spartans scored five points to steal the lead in the closing seconds of the quarter. Echevarria drove to the basket for a lay-in, then swiped a steal at midcourt and drove for another layup while drawing a foul. He netted the free throw to give St. Mary’s a 19-18 lead at the end of the first quarter.
St. Mary’s kept its foot on the gas in the second quarter. Onwuogu cleaned up a missed basket for an easy layup and Echevarria swished a 3-pointer to start the quarter. At halftime, the Spartans led 34-27.
“St. Mary’s is a very good team,” Dullea said. “It doesn’t matter what division they’re in, it’s always tough to come in here and play. That’s a very good team and they’ll make noise in the tournament.”
The Eagles started the third quarter on the right foot, with a bucket from O’Neil and a 3-pointer from Relihan to slim the deficit down to two points. Snow-Guzman took a steal coast to coast for an easy basket to cap the third quarter. St. Mary’s led 42-36 after three.
With the Eagles needing a lift, Snow-Guzman took total command in the fourth quarter. He swished a three with 5:18 to play to give the Eagles their first lead of the second half, 45-42. Two minutes later, Snow-Guzman knocked in another three to put St. John’s ahead 48-46.
With 14.4 seconds remaining and the two teams locked in a 54-54 tie, Snow-Guzman finished his late heroics with a game-winning floater at the buzzer to seal the Eagles’ win.
“We had one of our multiple-option sets that we like to go to,” Dullea said of the game-winning play. “We had two looks that we like to get but the third option, and the option that was probably going to happen, was at the very least Jarnel had the ball in his hands.
“We felt very comfortable with the ball in his hands for the last shot,” Dullea added.
St. John’s (14-4) visits Hamilton-Wenham Wednesday (6:30). The Spartans (13-2) visit Fenwick Thursday (6:30).
“This only makes us better,” Brown said. “I take this game, the English and Classical games, as pride games. We’re playing for the school, the alumni, the board of trustees. We’re playing for everybody when we play St. John’s. Traditionally they’re the best Catholic school on the North Shore and for us to compete with them the way we did, that’s encouraging.”