No. 1 St. Frances girls balance offense, rev up defense in win over No. 2 McDonogh

The No. 1 St. Frances girls basketball team faced its two toughest Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference opponents within three days this week, and after a close call against No. 3 Roland Park, the Panthers balanced out their offense and revved up their defense to get past No. 2 McDonogh, 68-54, on Friday night.

In a rematch of last year’s conference championship game, Panthers 6-foot-3 sophomore forward Angel Reese scored 24 points while freshman guard Aniya Gourdine added 14, senior forward Taneara Moore scored 12 and senior guard Nia Clouden had 11.

“We needed more contributions tonight,” said St. Frances coach Jerome Shelton, who got 44 of 53 points against Roland Park from Reese and Clouden. “People had those opportunities tonight and they cashed in. Wednesday, they didn’t make them, so you say what a difference a couple of days make. We’re good. They could have made those shots the other night. Tonight, you’re 1 and 2. You put a lot more pressure in this game, so we made them.”

The game was tied 11 times, including at 52 with five minutes left, but Reese controlled much of the fourth quarter, scoring 15 points, making seven of nine free throws.

“In the first half, I really couldn’t get the ball in the post, because every time I got the ball, it was a double team down low, so I tried to kick it,” Reese said. “Then at the end, they tried to stay on Nia, so I had to bring the ball up and then I would get it to Nia, set her a screen and she either scored or she would pass it to me and I would score.”

The visiting Eagles, with their only post player, AJ Davis, out for the season with an injury, couldn't handle Reese.

“They create some hard matchups for us with Angel inside,” McDonogh coach Brad Rees said. “She’s very athletic with good quickness and we just didn’t have a defense for her tonight.”

Early in the final quarter, the Eagles (13-2, 4-1 IAAM) took a 47-46 lead on two free throws from Jessica Booth. Clouden, who also had five assists, made a nifty move to the hoop to put St. Frances up 48-47 before Jayla Oden’s 3-pointer gave McDonogh back the lead, 50-48. Back-to-back baskets from Reese and Clouden put the Panthers in front before McDonogh’s Aleah Nelson tied the game at 52.

After that, the Panthers (11-4, 3-0) began opening their big lead when Reese, left alone in the lane, banked in a 10-footer before Clouden nailed a 3-pointer and then fed Moore for a layup with a bounce pass across the baseline. That ran the Panthers’ lead to 59-52 with 2:38 to go.

Booth hit a follow shot to cut the lead to five, but the Eagles missed their last four shots. They hit eight 3-pointers during the game, but couldn’t hit any of their last five attempts, including three in the final minute.

Other than stopping the 3-point shots, the Panthers played a much better defensive game than they did in the 53-50 win over Roland Park on Wednesday. They were especially tough in the first quarter, forcing five McDonogh turnovers. The game opened with four straight ties, but the Panthers used a 9-0 run in the final 1:28 to push the lead to 17-9, their biggest lead until late in the fourth quarter.

“We knew we had to guard a little better today,” Shelton said. “They still got behind us a little bit on some drives. … I think we just have to concentrate more on being in better defensive help position. Fortunately, they missed some shots and we were able to clean it up so they couldn’t get a second shot.”

The Panthers, who have won eight of the past nine meetings with McDonogh, ended the Eagles’ 13-game winning streak. Last year, the Eagles lost only four games — all to St. Frances. McDonogh’s last win over St. Frances came at the Bishop Walsh Tournament two seasons ago.

The rematch comes on Feb. 5 at McDonogh.

1 St. Frances 68, 2 McDonogh 54

M—Dixon 16, Nelson 7, Booth 8, Valdez 6, Liles 6, Oden 11. Totals 17 12-19 54.

SF—Clouden 11, Reese 24, Hughes 5, Pinnick 2, Moore 12, Gourdine 14, Totals 25 15-26 68. Half: SF, 32-29.

katherine.dunn@baltsun.com

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