No. 5 John Carroll and No. 10 St. Frances traded the lead six times in the second half before the Patriots emerged with a 52-47 victory in Friday night's Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference semifinals.
The Patriots advance to face No. 2 Mount St. Joseph — a 62-48 semifinal winner over Glenelg Country School — in Sunday's championship game at UMBC at 5:15 p.m.
Trailing 24-17 in the waning seconds of the first half, John Carroll cut its deficit to four points when freshman Justin Jenifer nailed a three-pointer from 30 feet out just as the buzzer sounded.
After the Panthers' Daquan Cook put his team back up by six with a jumper to open the third quarter, John Carroll's Kamau Stokes quickly knotted the game at 26-26 with back-to-back 3-pointers.
The lead bounced back and forth five more times before Jenifer hit a pair of shots to give the Patriots an 37-34 edge with just under two minutes left in the third quarter. St. Frances got as close as one point, but John Carroll didn't hand over the lead for the balance of the contest.
St. Frances cut it to 49-47 when Tevon Saddler nailed a shot from beyond the 3-point line with just over a minute left in regulation.
After John Carroll went up by three when Jarred Jones hit one of two free throws, the Panthers had a potential tying 3-pointer rim out, and the Patriots' Rodney Elliott hit a layup just before the final buzzer for the final margin.
"This is really one of the weaker games we've played in the last three weeks," John Carroll coach Tony Martin said. "We've been on a roll lately, peaking at the right time. There were some things we didn't do well early, like being patient on offense. We weren't running any offense in the first quarter, which was a little disturbing. Being down by four at halftime, we were still running decent defense. The second half came down to being patient, creating open shots for teammates, attacking their zone, attacking their man defense with bounce [passes], and, obviously, at the end knocking down enough free throws."
Jenifer led all scorers with 18 points, and Jones added 10. Saddler was the Panthers' top scorer with 11 points, and Cook chipped in 10.
Mount St. Joseph's semifinal victory was less suspenseful, as the the Gaels (24-5) enjoyed an early 14-0 run and never looked back.
Kameron Williams (game-high 22 points) started the run with a 3-pointer with 6:44 remaining in the first quarter and Phillip Lawrence punctuated it when he crammed in an alley-oop from Phil Booth (15 points, 6 steals), who also added a 3-pointer during the stretch.
"I just know when I get that dunk it gets the team motivated," said Lawrence, who was playing his final home game in Irvington. "We wanted to come out hard because we want to win a championship and I wanted to come out hard because it's my last time playing here."
Lawrence scored all six of his points on dunks and added nine rebounds and two blocked shots against a Dragons (16-12) front line that included 6-foot-8 inch senior forward Cedric Moune and 6-5 junior forward Warren Powers (19 points 9 rebounds).
"I thought Phillip Lawrence played a terrific game at both ends of the floor," Mount St. Joe coach Pat Clatchey said.
Gaels junior Lavon Long who hauled in eight rebounds and had four steals, and Charlie Jones came off the bench in the second quarter and contributed a pair of field goals and a free throw as the Mount St. Joe bumped a 16-7 halftime lead to 34-16 at halftime.
Williams had 12 points and Booth had nine in the first half when the Gaels shot 15-for-27 (55 percent) from the floor.
"That first half was tough," Glenelg Country coach Kevin Quinlan said. "They came out energized and just punched us in the nose and shot the ball incredibly well."
Kevin Boyd scored 12 points in the third quarter, but the Dragons never got closer than 14 the rest of the way.
"Our goal was to get it to nine, but we couldn't do it," Quinlan said. "They are incredibly patient and to me that is their greatest asset. They really play well together offensively and keep the game so daggone clean."
The Gaels committed just 10 turnovers and outrebounded the Dragons, 28-23.
Mount St. Joseph won both its previous meetings this season against its championship opponent, John Carroll, including a 49-46 overtime victory in the final regular-season game.
"We are having a heckuva season, and we hope the winning can continue," Clatchey said.
John Carroll hopes to change that.
"We had a great game plan last time we played St. Joe's," Martin said. "We were up nine points late in that one, but some interesting things happened at the end there, and they found a way to pull it out, so credit to them. In the final, the adrenaline is going to be pumping, and I'm sure it's going to be a fantastic game."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun