"It's an ugly win but it's a win, against a great team," said Irish head coach Dru Joyce II. "That's the bottom line. To win."
James, a 6-foot-8 guard who will be the first pick in this year's NBA Draft, had 21 points to lead all scorers, but he also snagged 12 rebounds and dished out eight assists to top those categories as well.
Then there were the statistics you couldn't measure. When he wasn't blocking their shots, James' mere presence on defense intimidated Mater Dei players into fumbling the ball, tripping over their feet and missing layups they ordinarily would make with ease. He's also already receiving "favored son" treatment from the refs, who whistled a foul on Harrison Schaen after a clean swat on James and wouldn't blow the whistle on him after he ran Marcel Jones into the basket support on a breakaway attempt.
"I had an off night," James said. "It seemed like the ball was going in and out. I applaud my teammates for being there and making a lot of shots for me."
James started off the game colder than January in Akron, going 1-for-7 from the field with two turnovers as St. Vincent-St. Mary and Mater Dei played to a sluggish 11-11 draw after one quarter. But he heated up during the second eight minutes. His three-point play gave the Irish a 16-13 lead. They would not trail again.
James scored the first seven points of the quarter for the Irish, 11 of the first 13, and assisted on the other bucket, as St.Vincent-St. Mary built a 25-18 lead. The advantage grew to 10 on a triple from Brandon Weems, at 5-7 the smallest player for either team. The Monarchs (15-2) chipped into the lead with two charity tosses from Wes Washington and a foul line jumper from D.J. Strawberry, but James, who finished the quarter with 13 points (as many as the entire Mater Dei team), hit a jumper of his own in the closing seconds to send the Irish to the locker room at halftime with a six-point lead, 30-24.
St. Vincent-St. Mary extended its lead in the third quarter, opening up a 14-point advantage on a three-ball by Corey Jones, even as its second best player, Romeo Travis, sat on the bench saddled with four fouls. But Mater Dei could do very little right and only managed to stay within sight of the Irish after three, 46-36, on late buckets by Chris Henry and Marcel Jones.
The Monarchs had one whisper of life left when Washington sandwiched consecutive swished triples around a steal, but James was able to make it a nine-point Irish advantage on the next possession with an overpowering bucket inside.
Besides James, three other Irish players netted double figures, led by Travis and Corey Jones with 12 apiece. Point guard Dru Joyce III, the coach's son, had 10, including four straight free throws in the end game to preserve the win. Indeed, St. Vincent-St. Mary (8-0) was outstanding from the charity stripe, shooting 19-for-22, while Mater Dei struggled through a 7-for-19 night.
Washington paced Mater Dei with 18 points and seven rebounds, while Marcel Jones scored 14. Strawberry, headed to Maryland next year, had an off night, scoring only seven points.
In other Dream Classic games:
Lincoln (Brooklyn, NY) 91, Vallejo 63
A difficult spring and summer of AAU and camp ball tarnished the image of Lincoln point guard Sebastian Telfair heading into his junior campaign. It took one masterful game against Vallejo Saturday night to regain it.
Displaying superb range on his jumper, incredible quickness to the hole, dribbling perfection that befuddled the Apaches and passing that was jaw-drop beautiful, Telfair and the Railsplitters raced out to an enormous first-quarter lead against their opponents from Northern California and never looked back.
A 24-9 lead after one became 41-21 by halftime and 57-23 by the middle of the third quarter. The Apaches were never in the game and had few highlights, save for a three-quarter heave from Duke-committed junior DeMarcus Nelson that found nothing but net at the first quarter horn.
Telfair finished with 28 points in less than three quarters of play. Nelson paced Vallejo with 37, 27 of which came after halftime when the game was out of reach.
Mayfair 62, Loyola 55
The Loyola Cubs had the experience, with four starters returning; and the pedigree, after winning the CIF Southern Section Div. I-A title in 2002; but the Mayfair Monsoons were the better team on the court Saturday afternoon, taking advantage of cold second-half shooting by Loyola to score the 62-55 win in the opening game of the Dream Classic.
The Cubs, led by Kansas-bound guard Omar Wilkes, led by as many as eight points in the first half and for most of the third quarter before turnovers and ill-advised shots opened the door for Mayfair. Justin Hawkins scored a lay-in that gave Mayfair a 37-36 lead and the Monsoons never relinquished it.
Vince Oliver drained a trey to pull Loyola within two at 51-49 with 2:32 remaining, but the Cubs could get no closer, misfiring on three straight from behind the arc. When Mayfair guard Dejon Prejean's lefty stroke from long distance swished through with 1:07 left, the Monsoon lead was eight and insurmountable.
Brian McFadden led Mayfair with 19 points and five assists, while Prejean added 17 and Hawkins chipped in with 14 and 11 boards. Davis Cantor paced Loyola with 18 points and 10 rebounds, while Wilkes had 15.
Carson 86, Compton Centennial 79, 2 OT
At 6-foot-9, Carson center Ekene Ibekwe was the tallest player on the court in the Colts' matchup with South Bay rival Centennial of Compton. The Apaches did an effective job of containing the Maryland-bound senior in the first half, but the athletic Colt wore them down in the second and in extra time, leading Carson to the 86-79 win.
Behind junior sensation Arron Afflalo, Centennial led 49-42 after three quarters. But Carson closed quickly on two Ibekwe hoops, including an alley-oop jam, that brought the Colts within a deuce. They got the equalizer on a Bryan Harvey slash with four minutes to go.
The game was nip and tuck after that, with both teams having a chance to win at the end of regulation and the first overtime. But Centennial, which lost 6-6 freshman Jervaughn Johnson to fouls with less than a minute left in the fourth, could not match Carson's size in the second extra stanza.
Ibekwe and Harvey combined for 49 points and 23 rebounds for Carson, to offset 42 points from Afflalo.