McQuaid came out gunning from the perimeter right from the start, as Jack Leasure hit the game's first shot from behind the 3-point arc. Seven of McQuaid's 10 first-half field goals came from long range.
"We are a very good shooting basketball team," McQuaid head coach Joe Marchese said. "As a team, we are up around 45 percent from 3-point range, which is outstanding."
And on this night they would shoot at an even higher clip, hitting 10-19 from behind the arc.
"We were aware [of their 3-point shooting]," O'Connell head coach Joe Wooten said, "and except for one or two 3's in the first half, I thought we contested them all well. They hit some very tough shots. [Justin Magee] hit a really tough shot over Brian [Johnson] coming out on him. A lot of credit goes to them. They played well, and our kids played hard. It just wasn't meant to be tonight."
On the other end of the court, Marchese saw something that he could take advantage of in using a gimmick defense.
"What we did is we played a 2-3 zone," Marchese said, "but we played it with our top two guys tandem. The top guy had to play Erik Smith all over the 3-point arc, and the bottom guy played a one-man zone in the middle to try to front [Johnson] or dig in on him.
"He has a bad habit of putting the ball on the floor. We saw that and thought we might be able to take it away from him, but it's very strong, so we played him kind of front and back with a guard in front and [a post player] behind him. I thought our game plan worked pretty well because we kept Erik Smith out of the game pretty much by just shadowing him along the arc and playing Johnson front and back.
Smith, who was averaging almost 16 points in the tournament prior to this game, scored only six points in the first half on two 3-pointers and was held scoreless the rest of the way after missing his only three field goal attempts of the second half.
Johnson finished the half with eight points--all of them free throws (8-10)--after facing double- and triple-teams the entire opening period and missing his only four field goal attempts.
O'Connell led 35-33 at the half.
Johnson registered his first field goal of the game early in the second half when he rammed home an offensive rebound, but the rest of the game would not be as easy as he was swarmed time and time again when he caught the ball. He finished the game with 20 points but managed a paltry 29 percent (5-17) from the field--many of the misses at point-blank range.
"[The gimmick defense] really didn't bother me," Johnson said. "My shots just weren't falling today. I didn't look my shots in, and lot of them rimmed out."
"I thought he got bumped on a lot of them," Wooten said. "I don't want to blame it on that, but I do think he got bumped a lot."
It did appear physical, but, after all, what's a little jousting among Knights?
"Yesterday we got the calls," Johnson said. "Today we didn't. But the calls don't make the game. The team does."
In the mean time, McQuaid turned a 45-45 tie with under 11 minutes to go in the game into a 54-45 lead with just under six minutes to play when Tournament MVP Tyler Relph hit a 3-pointer. O'Connell managed to pull no closer than five points from that point on.
In the end, Brian Johnson finished with 20 points, 20 rebounds, three steals, two blocks, and an assist on his way to earning 2002 BBC Most Outstanding Player, but none of that means as much to him as what he wanted to accomplish as part of a team.
"I would trade all that back just for the win," Johnson said. "[This loss] showed me things that I need to work on. I'm glad we got it early in the season, rather than later in the season. Later in the season it counts… Nobody wants to lose. That will make me work twice as hard."
Teammates Fred Stanback and Marcus Ginyard joined Johnson as double-digit scorers for O'Connell with 14 and 11 points, respectively.