The defeated Archbishop Carroll boys basketball team walks off the court after losing to Neumann-Goretti in a Catholic League semifinal game Wednesday.
The defeated Archbishop Carroll boys basketball team walks off the court after losing to Neumann-Goretti in a Catholic League semifinal game Wednesday. (Robert J Gurecki)

PHILADELPHIA — The plan, Archbishop Carroll's eager player had proclaimed, would be to take an aggressive mindset against what always is a physical Neumann-Goretti team. As so often happens, that resulted in a touch too much sloppiness for Carroll in the early going.

Too many fouls, a few too many turnovers, too.

And one major reason why the Carroll plan to be aggressive on both ends would slowly dissipate over the course of a 67-62 Neumann-Goretti victory at the historic Palestra.

This slice of history is getting a little old for Carroll.

Make it 0-for-every-time that the Patriots have tried to defeat Neumann-Goretti dating to 2009, when after two regular-season losses to the Saints, Carroll took them down in one of the school's biggest basketball victories in the Catholic League semifinals. Since then, the atmosphere has been so seemingly one-sided.

"They have an aura of, 'They're the champs and this is their building,' and it's tough to break through that," Carroll coach Paul Romanczuk said. "Unfortunately, we haven't been able to. We've been right at the doorstep and they're not willing to let us in."

So the question for the Patriots concerning this rivalry remains, how far away are they from the champions?

"I thought we were aggressive as we wanted to be," Derrick Jones said. "But it was just one of those nights where our shots weren't falling, and maybe we'll have a better night the next time we see them. ... We still have state playoffs, right?"

The Patriots have a third-place game against the Philadelphia Pub's Imhotep Charter, but they'll get a spot in states. What remains beyond that is anyone's guess.

Another meeting with the Saints down the line is something that's always high on the wish list.

"I think we're right there with them," Carroll's 6-9 junior center Ernest Aflakpui said.

Although the Saints had a bit of a sloppy start themselves, they gave every indication early that their five-year hold on Carroll — the two most recent examples being a victory over the Patriots in last year's Catholic League semifinal round, and a 64-58 win earlier this season — wasn't about to be washed away.

Carroll was aggressive, using a collapsible zone to limit space in the post and on the baseline. So the Saints promptly opened up their offensive game. They would hit on 8 of 13 three-point attempts, five of them in the first half en route to a 29-24 intermission lead.

Meanwhile, Neumann-Goretti's team defense got down low and clean, and for long stretches of the game Carroll post players Jones and Aflakpui weren't allowed to roam the paint with any precision.

Aflakpui (14 points and 7 rebounds) had a third-quarter outburst and Carroll grabbed a lead, but the Saints would counter late with what essentially was an all-guard lineup. Romanczuk had to sit his big man, and the Saints went marching on.

"You pick your poison," Romanczuk reasoned. "Our poison tonight, obviously, was making other guys beat us. We wanted (Ja'Quan) Newton and (Lamarr) Kimble specifically to have a tough time of things. We wanted them to see black jerseys when they were driving to make plays, then to have the other guys try to beat us. To their credit, the other guys did beat us."

The threes rained in from sophomore guard Vaughn Covington, freshman guard Quade Green and Troy Harper. Carroll's game plan didn't call for that.

"They're a good team," Aflakpui concluded. "They hit their shots when they needed them the most. So we give all the credit to them. They did great.

"I think we actually play good defense. But even when we did, they had tough shots and they went in."

In the end, that's really what matters. Enough of Neumann-Goretti's shots went in from inside or out, while Carroll (1 for 10 from three-point land) still appeared to be a team experiencing more growing pains.

Doesn't make it any easier, though.