The Mount St. Joseph boys basketball team vowed to start out better in this year's Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship, having learned from last year's thorough loss to St. Frances in the same game.
The No. 2 Gaels did just that against the No. 10 Panthers on Sunday, building a modest advantage that helped them get settled. And then, every time the defending champions threatened with a run, the Gaels came up with championship-quality answers.
The Mount St. Joseph seniors led the way: Phil Booth scored a game-high 25 points, Jaylen Adams had 17 and Jordan McNeil added 11 as the Gaels came away with a 68-58 win over the Panthers before an overflow crowd at UMBC's RAC Arena.
It's the third conference championship for the Gaels (29-4) and their first since the 2005-06 season. It also helped erase the memories of last year's 75-62 loss to St. Frances — a game that saw the Panthers (24-12) score the first 11 points and build a 25-point lead.
"This is the third time down here for me and we've never won before, so to get this win is big," said Booth, who added six rebounds and two assists. "To come out with a good start was big, and we came out pretty well."
Taking the lead for good three minutes into the game, but unable to build an advantage greater than nine points into the third quarter, the Gaels saw the Panthers close to within 35-33 in the third quarter. That's when they showed toughness with their most important and clutch answer.
Sophomore Randy Miller drove to the basket and switched to his left hand to make it 37-33 on the next possession. It would start a 18-6 run that extended into the fourth quarter and put the game out of reach, 53-39, with 5:37 to play. The stretch including a 3 pointer from Adams, a forceful three-point play from McNeil — who stayed in the air long enough to double-pump after getting fouled — and four free throws from Booth.
"It was a tough play," McNeil said of his three-point conversion that started the fourth quarter. "I just went up, got to the rim and was able to put it in. It took us three years, so I'm happy as ever to win. And to win like this was really good."
The Panthers had three players reach double figures, with Josh Ayemi leading the way with 14 points, followed by Dwayne Morgan's 13 and Will Robinson's 12. They made a concerted effort to work the ball inside and were effective at times. When Morgan drove the baseline to cut the Gaels' lead to 35-33, it looked as though the Panthers had what they needed to come from behind. But the Gaels made sure it didn't happen with some key stops accompanying their timely offense.
"It was a good game. I thought St. Joe played well. They did a good job of executing their offense, they hit the big shots, and Phil [Booth] played very well," St. Frances coach Nick Myles said.
St. Paul's 62, Boys' Latin 45: Senior Iba Camara, St. Paul's 6-foot-9, 225-pound center who has signed with New Hampshire, scored 19 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead the Crusaders to avictory.
Indian Creek 48, Beth Tfiloh 45: The Eagles got a team-high 14 points from senior Dominique May and 12 from Keion Ulmer-Bostick to capture their second straight conference championship. Beth Tfiloh was led by junior Dani Katz, who scored a game-high 18 in the loss.
Baltimore Sun Media Group reporter Tom Worgo contributed to this article.