Fans lined up hours ahead of time to see Monday night's boys basketball matchup between No. 1 St. Frances and No. 2 Poly. So high was the demand that fans broke open the doors of Goucher College's 1,200-seat Decker Sports and Recreation Center midway through the first quarter, allowing several hundred to stream in.
So frenzied was the atmosphere that even Jay Wright, the head coach of the top-ranked Villanova men’s basketball team, failed to gain entry, and was left out in the Towson cold.
By game's end, those who made it in had witnessed a classic.
St. Frances junior Bass Diop finished with 18 points and six rebounds but did some of his best work on defense, cooling off All-Metro guard Demetrius Mims in the second half as the Panthers rallied from an early nine-point deficit for a 65-57 win.
Though Mims, who's headed to Long Beach State next season, finished with a game-high 27 points, only nine came after halftime.
“We had to change up the matchup, cause he kept shooting the ball going right," Diop said. "They told me to guard him and just shut him down. Just force him left so he couldn't score anymore. That's what I tried to do. That was the biggest obligation I had to do. Don't worry about scoring… just shut him down.”
Jordan Toles (11 points), Adrian Baldwin (10 points, five assists, four steals), Rajeir Jones (10 points, four rebounds) and Elijah Epps (eight points, eight rebounds, four assists) made up the heart of a deep lineup that wore down the Engineers as the game went on.
After Diop's layup broke a tie game with 4:24 left in the third quarter, St. Frances (21-2) never relinquished the lead.
“Our guys got a little rattled at the beginning — Poly probably made their first seven or eight shots — but knew at some point that they wouldn't be so hot and they'd cool off a little bit," St. Frances coach Nick Myles said. "We said, ‘Let's stay together, let's run our stuff and let's play the same St. Frances basketball that we've been doing all year.’ ”
The Engineers (8-2) got within a point on Justin Lewis' buzzer-beating 3-pointer to end the third. In the fourth, however, St. Frances took control, forcing Poly into a series of poor shots and building a 52-46 lead on Baldwin's driving layup two minutes into the quarter.
The key series, however, occurred with just over three minutes to play, when Jones scored on a baseline drive and dunk at one end, and teammate Koran Moore blocked Lewis' fadeaway jumper at the other.
“I think they're depth hurt us a little bit, as it has hurt teams all year,” Poly coach Sam Brand said. "As that happened, I thought late in the game, in a tight game, their experience hurt us. They just looked comfortable continuing to trust each other, and I thought we made some plays where each guy was trying to hit a home run.”
Myles said his team's depth was the difference.
“Like I told the kids before the game, it's going to take seven or eight of us … playing together," he said. "If we did that, I don’t think any team in this area could beat us.”
On a night when St. Frances broke its two-game losing streak to Poly, both teams wound up the winners.
“It brought the city out," Brand said. "I think our schools represent different strong points in our city, and I'm glad the city came out to watch. I wish we could've been on the winning end of it.”
St. Frances — Jones 9, Baldwin 10, Epps 8, Ferguson 5, Diop 18, Toles 11, Mare 4. Totals: 25 13-14 65. Poly — Mims 27, Horton 6, Walker 2, Lewis 5, Ali 17. Totals: 23 4-7 57. Half: Poly, 33-30.