Mount Saint Joseph basketball closed the first half with a strong run and raced past visiting St. Vincent Pallotti in the second half on the way to a 73-57 victory Friday night.
The No. 4 Gaels (19-4) were led by double-figure scorers Bryson Tucker (25 points) and Austin Abrams (15).
Pallotti (8-10) was led by Warren Mouganda (28), Craig McCord (13) and Miles Bright (11).
McCord had eight points, including two 3-pointers, and Mouganda had six in the first quarter when the Panthers took a 16-13 lead. Mouganda continued to beat his defenders to the rim in the second quarter when he scored 10 points.
Aidan Moore’s 3-pointer with 3:20 left gave the Panthers a seven-point lead before the Gaels rallied to take a 33-29 halftime advantage.
Abrams had six points, Tucker scored four and Ace Valentine had a conventional three-point play during the 13-2 run that closed the half.
Mount Saint Joseph coach Pat Clatchey was trying to rest 6-foot-8 center Amani Hansberry because of nagging injuries, but that changed in the second half.
“[Clatchey] said come out aggressive and that’s what we did, we came out aggressive,” Tucker said.
Tucker, a 6-7 sophomore who shares ball-handling duties with Valentine, came out in the second half running the point and getting the ball to the rim.
Every time the Gaels thought they were going to extent the lead, Mouganda would make a play, as the senior guard scored nine points in the third quarter.
“We tried to put different bodies on him just to see how he would react, but Warren is a good player,” Tucker said.
Mouganda’s two free throws cut the Gaels’ lead to 37-35 with 5:25 left in the third quarter and that’s when Clatchey inserted Hansberry, who had 24 rebounds on Thursday night in a big win over Spalding.
“I wasn’t going to play him. His hips were a little sore and then he took that fall,” Clatchey said. “He went in and then we are up 18 points. He gets a putback and a dunk and he rebounded.”
The Gaels extended the lead to 52-43 at the end of the quarter and continued to build on it behind the play of Tucker, who scored 15 of his 25 points in the second half.
“Bryson is a tremendous player,” Pallotti coach Kyle Harmon said. “He’s got some abilities that a lot of people don’t have, and with his size and skill level, it’s a tough matchup for us. We were trying to limit other players from having big nights knowing that he was most likely going to have one.”
Tucker, who grew up in Bowie, also had six assists and was most proud of the way he got stronger as the game progressed.
“I feel like my effort, I really turned it up toward the end, that was my main thing,” he said.
Tucker had eight points in the final quarter and the only thing that kept Pallotti within striking distance was Bright, who scored eight points in the quarter and hit a pair of threes.
“We are starting to figure out how to play as a team which is something we needed to improve on earlier in the year,” Harmon said. “We are picking a good time to start playing, now we’ve got to try to put 32 minutes together as opposed to a half or three quarters.”
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Mouganda’s play impressed both coaches.
“He’s got a high upside,” Harmon said. “I’m proud of his development over the course of the year.”
“He’s a really good player, strong, physical and tough,” Clatchey said. “When he missed he went and got it.”
The Gaels coach said resting one of his starters for over a half did throw a wrench into his team’s rhythm.
“This has been all year,” Clatchey said. “You never know who is playing with COVID or injuries, so any time we take one guy out of our team it throws everybody out of whack.”
He’s hoping his squad is fully intact when the Gaels host top-ranked St. Frances on Sunday at 1 p.m. Tucker is already looking forward to that one.
“I love the big games,” he said.