Things weren't looking good for the Mount St. Joseph basketball team in Sunday's 41st Baltimore Catholic League title game. Against defending champion John Carroll, a poor first half had the Gaels frustrated and down by nine points.
Standout junior guard Kameron Williams already had three fouls at the break and the Patriots' zone defense had the Gaels shooting 33 percent from the field and getting to the foul line just once.
Already disappointed with the way the team played in losing to the Patriots in last weekend's Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference title game, Mount St. Joseph coach Pat Clatchey opened up his bag of tricks at the halftime break.
"We use a little thing where we talk about a bag of McDonald's fries," Clatchey said. "If you keep digging in the bag long enough, you're going to find some fries, and that's kind of what we did. We just kept digging in the bag, picked up a couple fries here and there and found a way to win."
The No. 5 Gaels also cranked up their man defense, got 17 points apiece from Williams and junior forward Lavon Long, and finished 22 of 24 from the foul line to come away with a stunning 52-39 come-from-behind win over the No. 3 Patriots. The win at Stevenson University in Owings Mills was Mount St. Joseph's fourth BCL tournament crown.
Mount St. Joseph improved to 27-6, while John Carroll fell to 28-7 on the season. After Mount St. Joseph claimed both regular-season games, the Patriots avenged the losses with a 44-41 win in the MIAA finals last Sunday before the Gaels answered this Sunday.
Trailing 28-19 at the half and 29-19 with just under six minutes to play in the third quarter, the Gaels took complete control. They limited the Patriots to just one field goal in the entire third quarter and the first six minutes of the fourth quarter. Williams, who was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player, hit timely 3-pointers in both quarters, Long scored 11 points in the final four minutes, and when the Gaels needed to dig the deepest this season, they proved they could.
"I knew the game would come to me in the second half," Williams said. "We just had to get stops and I knew the offense would come. I know we're a very good free-throw shooting team, but we also have heart and we have determination. And we were motivated because we lost to them last weekend in the MIAA, so that made us hungry for this game."
In addition to Williams' honor as tournament MVP, teammates Long and Phil Booth were named to the All-BCL Tournament Team along with John Carroll's Jarred Jones and Kamau Stokes, and Archbishop Spalding's Greg Brown.
On Sunday, the hot shooting of Stokes (team-high 16 points) got the Patriots off to a fast start with consecutive 3-pointers early and eight points in the first quarter. When teammate Justin Jenifer hit a 3-pointer at the first-quarter buzzer, the Patriots had a 15-12 lead that would increase with a solid second quarter at both ends.
After the Gaels got a three-point play from Jaylen Adams — the foul and subsequent free throw was the first of the half for the Gaels — to cut the John Carroll lead to 23-19 with 3:44 left in the half, the Patriots scored the final five points with drives from Rodney Elliott and Jenifer accounting for two baskets and a 28-19 halftime advantage.
Along with McDonald's fries, Clatchey talked about cleaning up some things on both sides of the ball, but mostly playing with heart with the 16 minutes that was left.
"Coach said 'Bring it up,' and we did," Long said. "He fired us up and we brought it together and came out strong. This feels wonderful. I think it was our dedication and all the hours we put in practice."
While it took awhile for the Gaels to heat up offensively, their reliable man defense kept the Patriots cold the rest of the game. A 3-pointer from Williams at the top of the key — cutting the lead to 29-24 with 5:01 to play in the third quarter — got the Gaels' offense going. Jones would hit a jumper with 3:25 to play in the quarter, but Mount St. Joseph scored the last six points — two baskets from senior Phil Lawrence — to go into the fourth quarter down, 31-30.
After Booth hit one free throw to tie the game at 31 in the opening minute of the fourth quarter, Williams hit another 3-pointer with 6:34 to play to give the Gaels a 34-31 lead they would not relinquish. They went on to make 16 of 17 free throws, while the Patriots couldn't find their first field goal of the fourth quarter until the 2:02 mark with the Gaels having already extended the lead to double digits.
"I think we got more stops on defense and that gave us a chance to run a little," said Clatchey, who also encouraged his players to be more physically and mentally tough in the second half. "And the biggest difference between this week and last was that last week [the loss to John Carroll] we just seemed to never be able to get over the hump. This week, we tied the score and took the lead and didn't have to chase them. We were able to dictate the tempo."
The Patriots, who needed three overtime periods to beat St. Maria Goretti in Friday's quarterfinal and then a last-second free throw against St. Frances in the semifinals Saturday night, appeared to have worn down by Sunday's fourth quarter.
"The flow of the game changed pretty significantly with the tenor of the way the game was called," said John Carroll coach Tony Martin. "It's disappointing in a sense that things were against us, but I'm still proud of our guys. I'm sure the fatigue of a triple-overtime game and a tough game in the semifinals may have caught up with us as well."
Baltimore Catholic League championship (at Stevenson University)
No. 5 Mount St. Joseph 52, No. 3 John Carroll 39
JC – Stokes 16, Elliott 7, Jenifer 7, Jones 6, Munroe 1, M. Owona 2. Totals: 12 11-16 39.
MSJ – Williams 17, Long 17, Adams 6, Booth 4, Jones 4, Lawrence 4. Totals: 13 22-24 52.
Half: JC, 28-19