St. Frances coach Nick Myles had some concerns about his team having a week off after earning a first-round bye as the top seed in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference playoffs.
That type of layoff can potentially cause a team to lose some of its edge at the most crucial time of the season. The No. 1 Panthers, however, showed no ill effects against No. 5 John Carroll in Friday's semifinal and took control by forcing several early turnovers and converting a couple of clutch 3-pointers.
St. Frances eventually ended the visiting Patriots' two-year reign as MIAA A Conference champions with a convincing 61-47 victory. St Frances advances to the MIAA A Conference championship Sunday at UMBC at 5:30 p.m. against No. 2 Mount St. Joseph. St. Frances will be looking for its third MIAA title after winning back-to-back crowns in 2009 and 2010.
"We took over early, but John Carroll made a great run at the end of the first half to get back in the game," Myles said. "We had to re-compose ourselves at halftime, and I think we had a great second half. It was a great season, but we still have some work to do."
Panthers sophomore guard Kurk Lee Jr. put on a dazzling performance, scoring 17 points. Tevon Saddler added 16 points for the Panthers (30-4). Jordan Martin led John Carroll (25-11) with 10 points.
"I'm a sophomore, but I still had to run the team and lead us to the championship," Lee said. "It was a team effort, that's how we won. We went on a run and played hard."
The Panthers and Patriots split their two regular-season meetings with each team winning by a single point. But after losing eight consecutive games to John Carroll, the Panthers have now won two of the past three matchups.
A 3-pointer in the closing seconds by freshman Khalil Richards helped St. Frances race out to a 16-8 lead at the end of the first quarter. The Panthers remained in control and another 3-pointer by Richards increased the lead to 28-13 with 3:50 left in the half.
John Carroll's Malik Tyne then scored five points in a 10-2 run to end the half, and the Patriots trailed by only five points, 32-27, at the break. John Carroll later tied the game at 32 on a putback by Michael Tertsea midway through the third quarter.
The Panthers then put together an 11-2 run, including a 3-pointer by Lee at the buzzer, for a 43-34 lead heading into the fourth quarter. St. Frances took full control on a 3-pointer by Dayshawn Wells and a breakaway layup by Lee for a 50-37 lead with 3:17 left in the game.
"We made them play at our pace," Saddler said. "We don't feel like anyone can run with us. We knew John Carroll was going to hit us with a run, and we knew we had to recover. We have a lot of confidence."
Wells was then fouled while converting a layup, and his ensuing free throw essentially sealed the game at 53-39 with 1:35 remaining.
No. 2 Mount St. Joseph 75, No. 7 Archbishop Spalding 58: The host Gaels (27-5, 13-3) built on their seven-point halftime lead in the third quarter, outscoring the Cavaliers, 24-11, in the period to advance to the MIAA A Conference championship.
Mount St. Joseph coach Pat Clatchey credited his team's defensive effort in the second half.
"We did a much better job of taking away the transition buckets and cleaning up," Clatchey said. "That was one of the things we talked about needing to do a better job of at halftime. We defended better, got balls off the boards and found open guys."
Mount St. Joseph senior guard Kameron Williams scored 19 points, while junior guard Phil Booth added 15. Earl Potts had a game-high 23 points for Spalding (20-11, 12-5).
MIAA A semifinal
No. St. Frances 61, No. 5 John Carroll 47
JC-- Martin 10, Elliott 8, Tertsea 8, MacKenzie 7, Tyne 5, Keyser 5, Pratapas 3.
Totals 13 17-27 47
SF-- Lee 17, Saddler 16, White 7, Wells 6, Richards 6, Morgan 5, Ayemi 4,
Totals 19 13-14
Half: SF: 32-27