Playing without two key starters, top-ranked Mount St. Joseph used basically six players in coming from behind to outlast No. 2 Towson Catholic, 50-38, in front of a standing-room-only crowd at the College of Notre Dame last night.
The Gaels (16-1) are the only unbeaten team in the Baltimore Catholic League (5-0) and Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference (6-0).
Towson Catholic (17-3) is 6-1 in both leagues.
"Six guys with hearts of champions," said coach Pat Clatchey of his Gaels, who trailed 26-18 at the half and 35-31 entering the final eight minutes. The Gaels outscored the Owls 19-3 in the final period and 32-12 in the decisive half, including eight straight free throws in the last 1:35 to finish 11-for-11 at the line.
"I told these guys keep believing and keep playing defense and we'll find a way to win," Clatchey said. "I told them we don't play again until Friday night and don't leave anything out on the floor. They played with a lot of guts and determination."
Rebounding and passing specialist Courtney Thomas and sharp-shooting swingman Dejuan Goodwin sat on the Mount St. Joseph bench in street clothes. Each injured his left knee in Thursday's 52-50 win over No. 9 Archbishop Spalding and will have a magnetic resonance imaging exam today.
As a result, 6-foot-6 junior Louis Birdsong and 6-8 sophomore Dino Gregory had to take charge in the paint and stay out of foul trouble, while the Brian Johnson-led backcourt had to crank it up a notch.
"Coach told us we were the only two big men and told us to play smart," said Birdsong, who had six points in the last period.
"It was a big win without Dejuan and Courtney, who are important pieces to the puzzle."
Birdsong and Gregory combined for 21 points and didn't foul out, and Johnson tied Birdsong for team scoring honors with 12 points.
"We said all week, we're still the champs, and we came out and played like the champs without Courtney and Dejuan," said Johnson, who had six of his 10 assists in the second half as the two-time defending Catholic League champion Gaels overcame an eight-point deficit.
Johnson's backcourt mates, Chase Adams, Kevin Swecker and Greg Woody, combined for 26 points and played superb defense, especially in the fourth period, when they held the Owls to Malcolm Delaney's three-pointer.
Delaney had a game-high 15 points, and Kyle Cannon scored 11 points for the Owls to go with 14 rebounds that tied Birdsong for game honors.
"What it came down to, was St. Joe just played better, especially in the fourth quarter," Towson Catholic coach Mike Daniel said.