Mount Saint Joseph coach Pat Clatchey spoke to his players before their game Wednesday and asked them to use a skill that had nothing to do with basketball. He asked them to use their memories.
"We played them early in the season and lost pretty bad," Clatchey said. "I wanted to make sure they remembered that."
The top-ranked Gaels did that and more, building an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter before hanging on for a 57-55 win over host No. 3 St. Frances in a key Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference and Catholic League game.
The victory was the 14th straight for Mount Saint Joseph (20-2 overall, 12-0 MIAA A, 10-1 Catholic League). Darryl Morsell led the Gaels with 15 points, while Kurk Lee Jr. led the Panthers (24-7, 10-3, 9-2) with 15 of his own.
The victory will loom large, as far as seedings go, for both the A Conference and Catholic League playoffs.
The game was tight throughout the first three quarters, but the Gaels made the most of their opportunities in the fourth. Leading 41-39 entering the quarter, Mount Saint Joseph got back-to-back 3-pointers from Randy Miller, and a layup from Morsell to run the lead to 49-39 with 5:53 left.
After the Panthers cut the margin to 49-41, Miller was fouled shooting a 3-pointer. After he made his free throws, Mount Saint Joseph had its largest lead at 52-41.
Gradually, the Panthers cut into the lead. St. Frances took advantage of sloppy ball-handling and poor shots by the Gaels to score 10 of the next 13 points to cut the margin to 55-51 with 45.8 seconds left.
Mount Saint Joseph added to its lead, using two free throws by Miller to run the margin to 57-51, but fouled the Panthers' Tarik Johnson on the next possession. He made one of two free throws to cut the lead to 57-52. After Miller missed the front end of a one-and-one with 19.3 seconds left for the Gaels, Lee made an acrobatic 3-pointer to cut the lead to 57-55 with 13.3 seconds remaining.
After an errant inbounds pass went off Miller, Lee had a clean look at the basket but missed a 15-foot jumper just inside the 3-point arc that would have tied the game.
The Gaels again missed the front end of a one-and-one after a foul, but another desperate heave by Lee with under a second left hit the rim and bounced away, securing the win for Mount Saint Joseph.
"Obviously, you saw some of the things we need to work on," Clatchey said. "We haven't practiced — except for 15 minutes before a game — in the last 10-11 days. Still, we feel very fortunate to come in here and get a win. St. Frances is a really good team, and anytime we can beat them we'll take it."
Gaels senior Miles Wilson, who finished with 13 points, said the fast start to the fourth quarter was just what the team needed.
"Coach told us that we needed to come out with a lot of energy [in the second half]," Wilson said. "We got off to a good start, and we made that run. Our momentum carried us for a while."
Miller said the win relieves some of the press for Mount Saint Joseph.
"We lost bad in the first game," Miller said of the 72-56 drubbing the Panthers inflicted upon the Gaels in late November. "I think we had something to prove. We knew if we came out and made stops, the win would come to us."