When St. Frances lost to Roland Park in December, the Panthers came out flat and never bounced back, but in last night's girls basketball rematch, the No. 2 Panthers started strong and finished stronger.
Angel McCoughtry scored 14 of her 18 points in the second half to lead the Panthers to a 57-36 victory in an Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference game before 550 at Villa Julie College.
"I told them before the game that we should be excited about playing this game," St. Frances coach Jerome Shelton said. "We had a lot of incentive to come in here and play better. For us, it was just to come in and accept the challenge to play better - win or lose."
The victory gives the defending champion Panthers (18-3) sole possession of first place in the A Conference Y Division at 14-2. Roland Park (19-4) drops to second at 13-3. The eighth-ranked Institute of Notre Dame, which plays host to the Panthers this afternoon at 5:30, stands third at 11-4.
All A Conference games count toward the division standings, which gives the top two teams first-round byes in the conference tournament that begins with Friday's play-in game.
Last night, the Panthers atoned for their poor showing in the first meeting with Roland Park by using a 1-2-2 zone defense to keep the Reds from hitting three-pointers, doing a better job on the defensive boards and forcing 25 Reds turnovers.
"I guarantee it was double the turnovers we had the first time we played them," Reds coach Scott Buckley said. "And they were bad turnovers. The first time, we only turned the ball over three times where they converted fast-break layups. You can't beat this team by turning the ball over."
In the first quarter, the Reds turned the ball over 11 times and took only five shots. The Panthers converted four of those turnovers to build a 15-5 lead, capped by a pair of Nija Bastfield three-pointers.
The Reds managed to whittle that lead to 15-14 and were in the bonus situation nine minutes into the second half. McCoughtry picked up her second foul and went to the bench, but the Reds only got to the free-throw line once more in the half.
Midway through the third quarter, the Reds pulled to 24-20 on Dani Kell's layup from Shannon Burke (12 points). After that, the Panthers went on a 21-9 run.
The Panthers started to pull away in the final two minutes of the third quarter when McCoughtry banked in a 12-footer, Maya Newman hit a 22-footer and Shadae Swan hit a driving layup and a three-pointer. Newman, who matched McCoughtry's 18 points, hit a layup with 6:24 left to push the lead to 45-29.