A huge grin flashed across Tyeisha Smith's face when the St. Frances senior was asked how she felt after scoring a career-high 30 points in a 63-55 victory over Roland Park on Saturday afternoon.
“Great,” she said. “It feels great.”
The sentiment was likely shared by St. Frances coach Jerome Shelton and the rest of the No. 3 Panthers, who knocked off the No. 2 Reds for the first time since Jan. 16, 2013.
“Tyeisha is our best offensive player,” Shelton said. “She can score from anywhere. Anytime she gets an open look, we're confident it's going in.”
The win vaults St. Frances (11-2, 3-0 IAAM) to the top of the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference standings, a half-game ahead of No. 1 McDonogh, the two-time defending champion which was idle Saturday.
Although Roland Park (10-1, 2-1) lost for the first time this season, coach Scott Buckley gave his team a fairly high grade for its performance.
“We talked about this being a big test for us,” said Buckley, whose Reds were conference runners-up to the Eagles last year. “I'm not sure I'd give us an A, but I thought we passed the test. For two of our players, Ja 'Niah [Henson] and Christyn [Robinson], it was their first conference game ever. And conference games are a lot different than what we've been used to so far this season. They had never experienced anything like this before.”
That didn't stop Henson from playing like a savvy veteran, considering the freshman guard's 3-pointer early in the second quarter put the Reds ahead, 26-23, after senior Jaia Alexander hit the tying layup moments earlier.
Roland Park stretched its lead to 30-23 after sophomore guard Aniyah Carpenter converted a bounce pass from senior center Anna Hauser and Alexander finished a fast break.
Facing its largest deficit, St. Frances rallied behind Smith's 3-pointer, Nia Clouden's free throw and a Mia Davis’ layup to pull within a point at halftime.
The Panthers opened the second half on a 12-2 blitz, partially because they started to push the ball inside to Tyana Custis.
The 6-foot-1 center converted passes from Smith into buckets twice during the run, and later she was fouled. Custis made three of four free throws to open the fourth quarter and then made maybe the game's most important play. With 54 seconds to go in regulation, she gathered in Smith's miss from the baseline and stuck it back in for a 60-54 advantage.
“They were backing off our inside players and coming out at the shooters,” said Smith, a Seton Hall signee. “When I missed that shot and she got the rebound, it was huge.”
Smith and Davis also had their share of big moments, like Davis' fast-break basket that put the Panthers ahead for good to open the third period and Smith's 3-pointer from the baseline with 3:56 to go in the fourth quarter that gave her team ample breathing room for the stretch run.
Meanwhile, Roland Park combo guard Alexander was a force at the other end of the court, finishing several acrobatic spin moves while going hard to the glass.
The Clemson signee finished with 27 points, and was the only Reds player to reach double digits.
“Jaia is relentless,” Buckley said. “But when things get tough, we have to find someone else to step up.”