In Thursday night's Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference semifinal, St. Frances didn't look flashy or play a razzle-dazzle style to advance. It didn't have to.
The No. 6 Panthers (28-8) used a good, fundamental offense and a smothering defense to defeat visiting and seventh-ranked John Carroll, 59-49, and advance to the title game against top-ranked Mount Saint Joseph. That game will be played Sunday at UMBC at 7:45 p.m.
"We felt like the only team that could beat us tonight was ourselves," said senior guard Kurk Lee, Jr., who led all scorers with 21 points. "We came out tonight and played as a team, and made it easy on ourselves."
Immanuel Quickley led the Patriots (20-10) with 17 points.
The win avenges a loss to John Carroll in the same round last year that ended the Panthers' season. The Patriots have advanced to the conference semifinals in all nine years they have participated in the A Conference.
After scoring three of their five field goals in the first quarter on 3-pointers, the Panthers only led by four, 13-9, entering the second quarter. After falling behind for the only time in the game early in the second quarter on a Kevin Kangu field goal to trail 14-13, the Panthers went to work.
St. Frances got two field goals by Lee — one a 3-pointer – and one each from Daquan Bracey and Tairik Johnson to race out to a 20-14 lead with 4:49 left in the first half. The Patriots cut the margin to two at 20-18 on baskets by Nemanja Knezevic and Jahbril Noel-Price with 4:03 left, but St. Frances turned up the defense and went on a 12-4 run to end the half.
The Patriots went on a run of their own to start the third quarter, outscoring St. Frances 8-1, and cutting the margin to 33-30 on a Mike Tertsea layup with 5:18 left. After a timeout by coach Nick Myles, the Panthers closed out the quarter strong with three field goals by Bracey and four points by Johnson to build a 44-33 after the third quarter.
John Carroll never got closer than six points the rest of the way.
"We had to grind it out tonight, but I'm proud of my seniors and what they've accomplished this year," Myles said. "I think, defensively, we were locked in tonight. Eral Penn did a terrific job defensively on their scorer. We were just locked in on the defensive end."
The win sets up another showdown between the Panthers and Mount Saint Joseph. The teams split a pair of regular-season games during the year, and Myles is not shy when he talks about the rivalry between the two teams.
"St. Frances-Mount Saint Joe is the best rivalry in Baltimore high school basketball," Myles said. "It's always a grinder when we play them, and the games are always close. I don't think this game will be any different."
Added Johnson: "After we beat them early in the season, they beat us at our place. We're kind of even now. We'll see on Sunday who wants it more."
MIAA A Conference Semifinal
St. Frances 59, John Carroll 49
JC – Quickley 17, Kangu 6, Noel-Price 8, Knezevic 14, Tertsea 4. Totals: 17 10-16 49.
SF – Lee 21, Bracey 17, Penn 2, Johnson 11, Moore 1, Goodwin 7. Totals: 20 13-23 59. Half: SF, 32-22.