Recognizing their talent and potential for something special, members of the St. Frances boys basketball team asked coach Nick Myles during the offseason to beef up their schedule.
The Panthers wanted to be pushed, and the second-year coach obliged.
So far, so good.
In their most significant challenge to date, senior guard Maurice White scored 19 points and three of his teammates also reached double figures as the No. 2 Panthers beat nationally ranked Travis (Texas), 63-58, Friday in the I-95 Elite Challenge at Loyola University.
The victory completed an impressive three-win week for St. Frances (9-0).
"We just came out playing hard and didn't let up," said White, who has committed to Loyola. "We just kept up the intensity and knew we had to be focused because no teams are going to let down on us. At the same time we know we have to keep getting better."
Travis, from Richmond, Texas, came into the game ranked No. 13 in USA Today's Super 25 poll and fresh off a 56-53 overtime win against No. 11 Archbishop Mitty (Calif.) in an ESPN-televised game Thursday in Houston. The Titans (12-2) were without Andrew Harrison due to a hamstring injury, but his twin brother Aaron finished with a game-high 20 points. In October, the highly touted twins made a commitment to Kentucky after strongly considering Maryland.
Much like its wins Monday against Princeton Day Academy and Wednesday against John Carroll, St. Frances came up with the big shots and impressive defensive stops at the end of the game.
After Efiom Ita hit two free throws to give the Titans a 53-51 lead with 2:43 to play, the Panthers answered with consecutive 3-pointers from Kurk Lee and Dwayne Morgan (11 points) to take a 57-53 lead that they would never relinquish. Travis made it 58-56 when Harrison hit a driving layup with 42 seconds left, but Tevon Saddler (12 points) followed with two free throws and Morgan sealed the win with an emphatic dunk with 23 seconds left.
The Panthers made 10 3-pointers, with Dayshawn Wells hitting four to finish with 12 points.
"We got tremendous effort from the kids tonight. They really wanted to win this game and they were able to come through," Myles said. "We buckled down on defense and we also made some big shots at he end. It doesn't get much better than this week. At 9-0, we're off to a tremendous start and we just have to doing what we're doing."
Hot shooting from the outside and strong work on the boards staked St. Frances to a 29-23 halftime lead. The Panthers connected on six 3-pointers in the first two quarters, including three from senior guard Dayshawn Wells connected in the second quarter.
Poor shooting from the Panthers in the third quarter — they didn't make their first field goal until there was 2:46 to play in the period — enabled the Titans to take their first lead when John Burnett hit a 3-pointer for a 35-33 advatage with 2:57 left.
In Friday night's opening game, Philadelphia-based Chester, ranked No. 4 by USA Today, enjoyed a comfortable 70-51 win over New York's Lincoln.
(at Loyola University)
No. 2 St. Frances 63, Travis (TX) 58
T – Burnett 14, Aa. Harrison 20, Idi 4, Ita 17, Jordan 3. Totals: 17 15-21 58.
SF – White 19, Saddler 12, Morgan 11, Wells 12, Wattie 2, Ayemi 4, Lee 3. Totals: 21 11-19 63
Half: SF, 29-23.