Throughout the regular season, the No. 12 Towson Catholic boys basketball team showed it could play with any team, though it sometimes struggled to close out games.
The Owls had no such difficulty last night against visiting Mount St. Joseph in the opening round of the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference playoffs.
With strong defense throughout and poise at the free-throw line in the closing minutes, the Owls pulled out a 56-51 win over the No. 13 Gaels to advance to the semifinal round.
Towson Catholic, seeded third in the tournament and now 17-11, will take on No. 3 Calvert Hall at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Archbishop Spalding. The semifinals will start at 5 p.m. with No. 2 St. Frances taking on Loyola at Spalding.
Last night, the Owls surrendered the first two points but never again trailed, building a nine-point lead in the second quarter but unable to shake the visitors. After the Gaels tied the score at 40 on two free throws from junior guard Eric Atkins with 4:16 to play, the Owls answered with a clutch three-pointer from senior guard Devin Spencer, strong defense and then good aim at the foul line.
Spencer, who scored 15 points, tied for the team high with Levi Noel, hit four straight in the last 26 seconds to help the Owls advance.
"A couple games ago against Calvert Hall, we had a big lead going into the fourth quarter but made some dumb plays down the stretch," Spencer said. "So this time we just tried to settle down, and they made their run but we stayed poised and finished the game."
The Owls had seven players score, with Malcolm Sizer adding eight points in the win. They outperformed the Gaels at the line, hitting 25 of 35 while the visitors went 11-for-24.
Atkins led Mount St. Joseph (20-12) with 17 points, and Gerald Hill scored 10.
Spencer said he is pleased with the way the Owls are playing and looking forward to a chance at Calvert Hall.
"We feel like we can compete with any team in the league. We've done it already; we just have to compete down the stretch and finish games."
NO. 10 LOYOLA 56, NO. 9 JOHN CARROLL 40:: Matt Rum led all scorers with 23 points as the Dons (17-9) advanced to the A Conference semifinals with a win over the host Patriots.
The senior guard had 12 points in the second half as Loyola pulled away after leading by three at halftime.