The John Carroll boys basketball team firmly believed what few others did Friday, and the end result was a storybook finish to the Baltimore Catholic League’s 50th season.
Behind a stellar 29-point performance from sophomore forward Jeannot Basima, some timely 3-point shooting from junior guard Tyson Commander and collective work on defense and the boards, the Patriots stunned previously undefeated St. Frances, 66-62 in overtime to capture the BCL tournament at host Calvert Hall.
John Carroll became the first sixth seed in tournament history to beat the top three seeds to earn the program’s third championship. The Patriots won their last nine games to finish with an 11-5 mark.
Deservedly, it was Basima who found himself at the free-throw line with five seconds left in overtime and a chance to seal the championship. He sank both free throws to close the scoring. After relentlessly attacking the basket throughout the game, he soon after found himself holding the tournament’s Most Valuable Player trophy.
Joining Basima on the All-BCL tournament team were teammates Commander, junior Jalen Bryant, St. Frances senior Byron Ireland and freshman Derik Queen, and Archbishop Spalding junior Cam Whitmore.
Emotional and exhausted following the game, Basima sat on a bleacher with his head down in a towel, taking in the special moment.
“We knew it was not going to be easy for us to come out and win because nobody believed we could make it this far. So we had to prove them wrong and that’s what we did today,” he said. “We just have fun. That was our mindset, just bring energy and stuff. And for me to come out like that, it was just my teammates trusting me and I came in and we made it happen.”
This is what the Patriots were up against taking on top-seeded St. Frances, who captured their 11th BCL regular season crown and easily reached Friday’s title game with a 15-0 mark: The Panthers averaged 80-plus points and had a winning margin of more than 20 points per game, including an 82-64 win over the Patriots on Feb 24.
On Friday, the Patriots did what no other team could against the Panthers and that was to go right at them. Basima scored 16 of his points in the first half to get the Patriots settled. But Ireland, whose 3-pointer at the fourth-quarter buzzer forced the second overtime in BCL championship game history, buried a couple earlier 3s to give the Panthers a 32-27 halftime lead.
Again, the Patriots weren’t fazed. Basima opened the second half with two straight drives for points and later in the third quarter, Commander (16 points) made good on four 3-pointers to provide the Patriots with a 52-42 lead.
St. Frances rallied in the fourth quarter with consecutive 3-pointers from Queen and Jahnathan Lamothe before Ireland’s heroics in the final minute. Down 62-57, he finished inside with 1:07 to play and then following a Patriots miss, stepped back in the left corner to hit a 3-pointer just before the buzzer to force overtime.
Defense and fatigue dominated the extra four minutes — the Panthers failing to put up any points while the Patriots mustered only four made free throws — all coming in the final minute.
In the end, like they have done in each of the past nine games, the Patriots found a way to win on their terms. The team’s work on defense and rebounding against the talented Panthers stood out the most.
“It comes back to being tough and together,” said Patriots coach Seth Goldberg.
John Carroll once owned a 2-5 record following a last-second 63-61 loss against Gilman on March 3. But the Patriots stayed together, play hard and had fun in running the table.
In the playoffs, they avenged two regular-season losses by knocking out third-seeded Mount Saint Joseph, 67-65, in Monday’s quarterfinal round before besting second-seeded Archbishop Spalding, 69-66, in Wednesday’s semifinals.
“You’ve heard me say this a million times, everything about what we do on a daily basis is really caring about each other, staying together and just staying tough. These guys embodied that,” Goldberg said. “They all came in the first day and they’ve been living the things we want this program to be and as I said to them ‘You guys are going to set the bar for whatever that’s going to look like.’ And they did and it’s purely about how we carry ourselves, who we are and how we stay together in the toughest moments. I thought tonight we showed that.”
Following a fine performance that fell just short, the Panthers, who were taking aim at a fourth straight tournament title, were stunned and disappointed after accepting the runner-up trophy. Ireland paced them with 20 points, followed by Queen’s 16 and Julian Reese’s 12.
“Tough day, but it was a great season. We accomplished a lot. We put a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get to this moment and we didn’t finish the job,” said St. Frances coach Nick Myles. “We couldn’t score. I would have never imagined in four minutes we don’t get a basket. We got some looks at the rim, we got some open looks but just couldn’t score the ball.”
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