"A lot of excitement," said Ss. Neumann-Goretti senior Troy Harper. "It feels like you're on top of the world when you do it."
Just before Harper stretched his lungs, the 6-1 guard rose up on a fastbreak for a two-handed, chest-to-chest dunk over a St. Joseph's Prep defender.
"I took one dribble and I didn't even see the man coming to jump," Harper said. "I just jumped to dunk it and we went body-to-body and it just happened to go in."
Well, considerable force helped. Neumann-Goretti (9-2, 4-0) eventually beat the Prep, 76-60, yesterday in front of a packed house on the Saints' South Philadelphia campus.
The sequence that led to Harper's highlight was illustrative of yesterday's Catholic League basketball matchup. A swarming Saints' defense had 13 steals and forced 18 turnovers.
Saints sophomore guard Vaughn Covington started the series with a steal from behind the Prep's Chris Clover (more on Clover later). Then, Covington whipped the ball to Harper. Head coach Carl Arrigale calls Covington and Quade Green his defensive "pit bulls."
Sure, the sum was only two points (Harper missed the free throw), but the effect was much more.
"There's nothing like a dunk," Arrigale said. "I know it's not the most fundamental play, but when you're dunking and you're 17 it gets everybody going. Our defense picks up and the crowd is into it, especially at home, so it kind of gets us going."
Seconds later, Harper - who finished with 17 points - was ready for another throw-down. But a hard foul by Prep senior guard Alex Stewart prevented liftoff and sent Harper to the floor. Woof tickets were bought and sold by both sides before referees intervened.
The results were double-technical fouls assessed to Covington and Stewart, which was the Prep point guard's fifth and final foul with 23.4 seconds left in the half.
Clover, who finished with 32 points (11-for-13, 3-for-3 from three), was forced to tote the ball against Saints' pressure in the third. The junior forward already appeared gassed in the first half (16 points), but kept plugging.
Clover also added seven rebounds, three assists and even banked in a three to end the third quarter.
Harper was right there and threw his arms up in disbelief.
"There was like two people on him and he just stopped and it banked in," Harper said smiling. "It was a lucky shot . . . That almost changed the momentum of the game because he hit the three at the end of the third and it shifted the momentum a little bit."
SJP's stalwart pumped 12 points in the third, but the shorts-tug - the universal sign of fatigue - was undeniable. The Prep committed just five turnovers in the final 16, but couldn't get defensive stops.
Even when Clover scored, the Saints still raced for layups. He also faced an onslaught of defenders as the Saints were athletic enough to switch up on defense.
Senior forward Kyle Thompson helped with a feisty 15 (6-for-14, three triples) for the Hawks (10-3, 2-2).
"When it comes down to it, we've been built on defense," Arrigale said. "We do play fast and we do score fast, and when we're sharing the ball we're really a tough cover. But our defense generates a lot of our offense."
Their mantra is: "Open shots go in, contested shots start fastbreaks."
Covington left with four steals, Lamarr "Fresh" Kimble added three and Ja'Quan Newton (Miami) and Jamal Custis (Syracuse, football) had two apiece. Kimble led the Saints with 19 points (14 second half). Tony Toplyn added 12 with eight rebounds and Newton added 16.
"In the first half, they kept going to me," Harper said. "Second half, 'Fresh' was getting into a rhythm and getting into holes, so we kept getting it to him. We're all unselfish. It's like if we know somebody is getting off - if he can carry us, let him carry us."
Harper, who lives near 61st and Grays between Woodland and Elmwood, signed to play college ball at Campbell University in North Carolina next season. He said the decision freed his mind from the pressure to impress. As a result, Arrigale said he couldn't be happier with Harper's shot selection and defensive commitment.
But don't mistake Harper's newfound poise for complacency. The Saints' five consecutive CL titles aren't enough.
"It's fun being the underdog this year since people think [Archbishop] Carroll is going to win it all," he said, adding a smile when told of Carroll's loss to Roman yesterday.
"We're still on top until somebody beats us in the 'chip," he said. "That's how I look at it. They're just gonna have to out-tough us."
On Twitter: @AceCarterDN