McDonogh School boys’ basketball team heard the talk about it taking a step back after several offseason changes. Well, to steal a phrase from longtime ESPN college football pregame show co-host Lee Corso, “Not so fast my friend.”

The 15th-ranked Eagles defeated fifth-ranked Calvert Hall College, 71-68, in a MIAA A Conference contest inside Memorial Field House in Owings Mills. Senior guard Damian Chong Qui and junior Noah Locke each scored 22 points for McDonogh (6-2 overall).

Playing catch up most of the evening, the Eagles overtook Calvert Hall late in regulation to remain undefeated (3-0) in arguably the area’s toughest league. McDonogh and top-ranked Mount St. Joseph are the early pole-sitters.

“I’m proud of our guys,” said Eagles coach TJ Jordan. “We talk about intensity and being dialed in. That first half we weren’t necessarily dialed in, but we made some adjustments and I challenged them at the half. They persevered and came through in the second half.”

“We just wanted to win,” said McDonogh senior guard Jaedon Willis.

Willis gave the Eagles the lead for good at 69-68, draining a three-pointer from the corner off a dish from Chong Qui with 1 minute, 23 seconds left in regulation. Chonq Qui dropped two free throws with 10.5 seconds left for a three-point advantage.

Brendan Adams’ game-tying 3-point attempt rimmed out at the buzzer for Calvert Hall, and McDonogh celebrated its second victory over a VSN Top 5 opponent in as many weeks. The Eagles knocked off No. 4 Glenelg Country School Nov. 29.

Last season, McDonogh reached the league playoffs for a second straight season under David Gately (now a Calvert Hall assistant), who was relieved of his coaching duties at season’s end. McDonogh graduated seven seniors including all-MIAA post Bruce Moore (now at Bucknell).

“We’ve came a long way. People were talking about us, how we weren’t going to be that good this year because we lost a couple of players and having a new coach,” said Locke, who netted his 1,000th career point Wednesday. “Coach Jordan has told to stay dialed in and we’ve been dialed in.”

The Eagles weren’t in the first half, trailing 32-23. Jordan, who coached the junior varsity last season, challenged the team at halftime. With Chong Qui and Locke each scoring 8, McDonogh close the gap to 52-48 after three.

Chong-Qui gave the Eagles their first advantage since the opening period with a trey with 4:23 remaining in regulation. Calvert Hall answered, getting 3-point daggers from Adams and Josh Cornish for a 66-61 advantage.

McDonogh didn’t lose its poise, closing the match with a 10-2 run.

“We just basically took the momentum,” said Chong Qui, who scored 20 points in the second half.

Down 68-63, Chong Qui brought McDonogh within two with a 3-pointer. After a Calvert Hall miss, Chong Qui drove towards the basket and whipped a pass to Willis in the corner near the Eagles’ bench. Willis connected for the Eagles’ 10th and final trifecta of the evening.

“I knew when Damian was attacking, he was going to kick it to the corner,” said Willis, who finished with 10 points. “…When I got the shot, I went right up with it. I knew it was going in when I let it go.”

“I tell the guys all the time shoot the ball with confidence,” said Jordan. “Jaedon came in and gave us great minute off the bench. He played within himself. That’s what it’s about being unselfish.”

It was another tough loss for the Cardinals (1-4, 0-2 MIAA A), who’ve been struggling with youth as well as injuries in the early season. 

“Any time you’re playing two freshmen and a sophomore, you’re going to have some inconsistency,” said Calvert Hall coach John Bauersfeld. “We’re getting better; I thought this was our best game, start to finish.”

Other than a loss at St. Paul’s School, McDonogh has gotten consistent effort on both ends off the court. The Eagles aren’t surprised about the promising start.

“Yes, we’re 3-0,” said Jordan, “but we’re looking to 1-0 after the next game.” 

“We think we should be undefeated right now,” said Chong Qui. “We know everybody’s going to underestimated us and put the underdog in pretty much every game. We’re going out and laying everything on the line.”

No. 15 McDonogh School 71, No. 5 Calvert Hall College 68

Calvert Hall – Curtis 14, Adams 17, Lewis 7, McNeil 12, Ilardo 2, Cornish 15. 23 10-11 68.

McDonogh – Chong Qui 22, Locke 22, Thornes 6, Pickett 4, Little 7, Willis 10. Totals 28 8-13 71.

Calvert Hall 16 16 20 16 – 68

McDonogh 13 10 25 23 – 71