By Phil Anastasia
Jay Howard knows exactly when his sore left ankle will feel better.
"After the season," Howard said.
Howard needs rest to fully recover from a bad sprain in December. He doesn't have that luxury as he enters the final weeks of his illustrious career at Paul VI.
And he surely didn't have any time for a deep breath and a comfortable seat on the bench in the final moments of top-ranked Paul VI's game against Camden on Saturday.
Howard, a senior swingman, scored Paul VI's final four points as the Eagles held off a furious rally by the Panthers for a 67-64 victory in an Olympic Conference National Division clash in Clarence Turner Gymnasium.
Howard finished with 26 points and eight rebounds for Paul VI (13-1), the No. 1 team in The Inquirer South Jersey Top 10.
"We needed this," Howard said. "We needed this kind of competition against a scrappy team like Camden."
Sophomore forward Jamal Holloway (20 points, 12 rebounds) and sophomore guard Brad Hawkins (18 points) led the way for Camden (10-5).
Down by 56-37 late in the third period, the Panthers roared back behind junior guard Will McCants, who made a trio of three-point jumpers in the fourth quarter.
McCants' deep jumper pulled Camden within 63-62 with two minutes, 30 seconds on the clock and brought many of the folks in the home crowd to their feet.
"This is a team that doesn't quit," Camden coach John Valore said. "I was happy with our effort, our energy in the fourth quarter. And we hit shots."
On the first day of February, both teams showed that they remain works in progress, thanks to the absence of key players through stretches of the season.
Camden senior guard Tavaris Headen, a first-team All-South Jersey selection as a junior, made his season debut after receiving eligibility clearance on Friday. Headen, who has 988 career points, played about half of the game and made a three-point jumper for his only points in the second quarter.
Paul VI senior guard Ivan Robinson was playing in his second game after missing 26 days with a concussion. Robinson scored 10 with six assists and two steals.
"He looked good," Paul VI coach Tony Devlin said of Robinson.
Howard rolled his ankle in a scrimmage in early December and hasn't been 100 percent this season. He missed the first four games, returning Jan. 7.
He's averaging 16.7 points and has scored in double figures in nine of 10 games. But there have been many moments when he's been unable to explode off the floor in typical fashion.
"It's been frustrating but I have to play through it," Howard said.
Howard came through when his team needed him in the late stages of Saturday's game. After Camden pulled within 63-62, Howard took a nice feed from Matt Risse (10 points, three assists) and deposited a layup to jack the Eagles' edge to three points.
Holloway answered for Camden with a put-back basket at the 0:29 mark.
Howard was fouled at 0:18 and sank both ends of a one-and-one for the game's final points.
"Those two free throws, I needed to show confidence," Howard said. "I had to come through. I knew my team needed me."
Paul VI 17 18 23 9 -- 67
Camden 8 20 17 19 -- 64
PVI: Ivan Robinson 10, Jay Howard 26, Matt Risse 10, DeVahnte Mosley 6, Jair Green 12, Jahvan Rosbia 3.
C: Jamal Holloway 20, Will McCants 9, Brad Hawkins 18, Rasool Hinson 7, Jamil Maddred 2, Nasir Money 5, Tavaris Headen 3.
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