Mount St. Joseph trailed by nine points at halftime and the Baltimore Catholic League's Player of the Year was saddled with three fouls and little optimism in the 41st annual BCL postseason tournament championship game against John Carroll.
But Kameron Williams and the Gaels responded with a smothering man-to-man defense, which held the Patriots to just three field goals and 11 second-half points, as they rallied for a 52-39 victory at Stevenson University on Sunday.
The triumph came a week after the Gaels (27-6) lost to the Patriots (28-7), 43-41, in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship game.
It earned St. Joe its fourth BCL title and Williams was the third Gael to be named the John M. Plevyak Most Valuable Player awarded to the top player in the tournament.
Will Thomas won the award for the Gaels in 2003 and 2004 and Louis Birdsong won it when the Gaels prevailed in 2006.
"I didn't think it was going to turn out well to be honest, with me coming out with three fouls at halftime," Williams said. "We turned it around and hit a couple of key free throws and got some stops at the defensive end."
They got more than some stops.
John Carroll shot just 10 percent (3 of 29) from the field in the second half and went a span of 9:26 without a field goal.
"That game was won on the defensive end of the floor," Mount St. Joe coach Pat Clatchey said.
Unlike the first half, every penetrating shot by the Patriots was contested with an arm, hand or body.
Lavon Long and Philip Lawrence anchored the interior defense and Williams, Phil Booth, Charlie Jones and Jaylen Adams (9 points) created havoc with Patriot guards.
"Coach emphasized that we are not going to block every shot because we are not the best jumping team, so we've just got to get our hands up and set our feet and just try to change some shots."
Long had two blocked shots in the second half, but he altered at least a dozen.
"Everybody wanted this bad," Long said. "We worked hard every practice."
Long and Booth were selected to the All-Tournament team along with John Carroll's Kamau Stokes and Jarred Jones and Archbishop Spalding's Greg Brown.
Long scored a game-high 17 points and made all 11 of his free throw attempts in the second half.
"When Lavon plays like that we are just a whole different team," Clatchey said.
Lawrence was also strong on the defensive end. He held Jones to six points, a week after he scored 15 points in the MIAA finale.
"That was a total team effort," Clatchey said. "Phillip Lawrence did an outstanding job defensively on Jarred Jones."
Clatchey's interior bench depth was lessened because reserve forward Kyle Doran had stitches after a blow to the head in the Gaels' tournament opener against Mount Carmel.
Charlie Jones came off the bench and gave the Gaels a huge lift with unselfish play.
"That guy is just a tough smart basketball player," Clatchey said. "He just does all the little things that don't show up on the state sheet, but they help you win. He's a really good inbounder and a good receiver of the ball because he cuts to the open area and he's a good free throw shooter."
The entire team shoots free throws well and they didn't let down against the Patriots, knocking down 21 of 23 foul shots.
The Gaels started their rally after falling behind 29-19 with 5:55 left in the third quarter, following Rodney Elliot's free throw.
Long hit a pair of free throws and Williams (14 points) followed with a three-pointer and pair of three throws with 1:46 left in the third quarter that cut the deficit to 31-28.
Jones fed Lawrence a diagonal pass from the deep corner and he canned a jumper from 17 feet to cut the Patriot lead to 31-30.
Jones' basket with 3:29 left was the Patriots only field goal of the third quarter and it wasn't until 2:01 was left in the fourth quarter when Stokes ended the field goal drought.
Booth made a field goal with 7:05 left to tie it at 31-31 and Williams nailed a three-pointer that gave the Gaels a 34-31 lead with 6:30 remaining.
They never relinquished the lead and built on it by making 17 of 19 free throws in the final quarter.
"I just wanted to be aggressive," Williams said. "I didn't wanted to go out the way I did in the MIAAs. I wanted to go out with a bang and win a championship. I wanted to give it my all."
Gael players have been giving their all and the school has been rewarded with the most wins in Baltimore Catholic League history (285) in BCL games only.
Clatchey has coached 166 of those victories and trails only former coaches William Wells (St. Frances, 174), the late Ray Mullis (Cardinal Gibbons, 183) and Catonsville native Jerry Savage (Loyola, 190) in BCL victories.
Mount St. Joe's four BCL tournament titles leaves them behind Towson Catholic and Loyola (5 each), Calvert Hall and Cardinal Gibbons (6 each) and St. Frances (7) for most tournament championships.
The Gaels won the BCL regular-season title with a 12-2 record, earning them their sixth league title, which tied them with St. Frances and Calvert Hal,l and left them trailing only Cardinal Gibbons (8).
But, even the tournament crown didn't leave coach Clatchey without some question marks as the Gaels prepare for the prestigious Alhambra Tournament, March 15-17, at Frostburg State University.
"We need to find a consistency level because I'm getting balder and balder," Clatchey said. "We feel very honored to be invited to Alhambra, but that is a couple weeks off and everybody needs to kick back, relax a little bit and kind of get their mind right."