For three quarters last night, No. 4-ranked Towson Catholic dominated Hagerstown's St. Maria Goretti in a battle of for sole possession of second place in the Catholic League.
It was the fourth quarter that made Owls coach Mike Daniel sweat.
Staked to a 17-point lead after three periods, host Towson Catholic went into a stall and nearly crashed and burned, watching its lead shrink to five with 1: 22 left before holding on to win, 47-39.
"I went to the stall a little too early," said Daniel, whose team had one field goal attempt and nine turnovers in the final quarter.
Said center Thabo Lesebe: "I don't really know what happened. Maybe we thought we blew them out and rested a little bit. I think we learned from that mistake."
The final eight minutes aside, however, Towson Catholic (16-5 overall, 6-1 league) gave a defensive clinic. The Owls' choking half-court press held Goretti (21-3, 5-2) to 30 percent shooting and allowed just 12 points in the first half.
"Our defense was good," said Daniel. "We started off playing good defense, and we were hitting our shots. We were making it easy."
Towson Catholic owned the first half, shooting 48 percent from the field and keeping the normally sure-shooting Gaels at bay. Led by Lesebe (11 points), the Owls ran out to a 10-2 lead, as the bulky senior scored eight points in the paint.
As the half wore on, Towson Catholic's perimeter game helped make the game an early rout, as Keith Jenifer (11), Gil Goodrich, Aaron Early and Darnell Hopkins nailed three-pointers in the final 8: 01 of the half, building the lead to a commanding 17 points in a slow-paced game.
Goretti, conversely, was ice-cold, hitting just six of 23 shots from the field in the half and going scoreless for a stretch of 5: 57 during the second quarter on 0-for-9 shooting.
Seemingly out of it, the Gaels fought back late, using a 14-2 run to make it 42-37 after Jamie Rice's layup with 1: 22 left.
In a game that had seemed like a blowout, sloppy ball handling nearly cost the Owls dearly.
"We just didn't do a good job taking care of the basketball," said Daniel. "We weren't as crisp as we usually are. We usually score out of our stall, but we just didn't do it tonight."
Down the stretch, however, the Owls outscored Goretti 5-2 from the free-throw line to preserve the win, putting them behind only top-ranked Archbishop Spalding in league standings.
Pub Date: 1/30/99