Expectations at the beginning of the season soared for St. Vincent Pallotti after the Panthers beat Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference teams Mount St. Joseph and Our Lady of Mount Carmel on back-to-back nights.
Coupled with the fact Pallotti advanced to the MIAA B Conference championship game last February, no wonder Pallotti was thrust into the role as the team to beat in the league.
Furthermore, after a 5-0 start this season, including double-digit victories over Severn, Friends, St. Mary's and Gilman, there was every reason to label the Panthers as prohibitive favorites.
All of the sudden, though, Pallotti coach Shae Johnson has reasons to be concerned.
That's because the Panthers — ranked fourth in the area by the Baltimore Sun — sit in fourth place with a 6-2 record in the B Conference behind front running Boys' Latin (6-0), Annapolis Area Christian School (7-1) and St. Paul's (3-1).
A 102-93 overtime loss to AACS on Dec. 22 in Laurel and a 71-61 setback to Boys' Latin 13 days later, quickly dropped the Panthers (13-4 overall) out of first place.
In between those games, Pallotti routed Chapel gate Christian Academy, 65-42.
"We are playing OK," said Johnson, who hopes to eventually move the program to the A Conference and owns a stellar 151-58 record in seven seasons at the school. "We are not shooting well and that was our downfall (against Boys' Latin and AACS)."
Johnson won't panic, knowing the Panthers still have nine league games remaining on the schedule, including rematches with AACS (Jan. 25) and Boys Latin (Feb. 5).
"We would have loved to have won both of those league games, but we didn't," Johnson said. "Still, we are in a good position. It's early. We are going to continue to play hard."
Pallotti could start to get on a roll again with Friends (Jan. 11) and Gilman (Jan. 16) on the horizon, rivals they beat earlier this season by 32 and 11 points, respectively.
With Junior Tariq Owens, a 6-foot-8 center, anchoring the frontline as a terrific rebounder and shot blocker, no wonder the Panthers' potential is not in question.
Johnson said Owens has been offered several scholarships, including by the universities of Miami and Cincinnati.
The Panthers don't rely on Owens to score that much, with junior point guard Marcquise Reed and senior shooting guard Jeff Holland the offensive stars.
Both guards are averaging 15 points per game and possess excellent size and speed.
"There are not too many teams in the (B) Conference that have 6-foot-1 guards," Johnson said.
Pallotti received standout performances from both Scott (21 points) and Reed (19) against Boys' Latin, although it wasn't enough to overcome the Lakers and the effort of senior shooting guard Casey Rees.
Still, Pallotti made the Lakers sweat out the victory.
Boys' Latin led by as many as 12 points early in the third quarter, but Pallotti cut the lead to five the end of the quarter on Reed's three-pointer at the buzzer.
Later, Pallotti got as close as 60-58 with 3:51 remaining in the final period before Boys' Latin closed with a 11-3 run.
Because Pallotti converted only one of its final five shots from field the final 3:15 and shot 32 percent overall, the game went to the Lakers.
"We normally shoot around 45 percent," Johnson said. "We missed a lot of layups."
Jeff Holland (6), Fernando (5), Joel Peebles (4), Owens (4) and Jordan Preston (2) also scored for Pallotti.