The halftime order was loud and clear from Mount Saint Joseph basketball coach Pat Clatchey: Get the ball inside any way you can.
The No. 2 Gaels listened, scoring the first seven points in the third quarter to build a double-digit advantage over No. 4 John Carroll. And when the visiting Patriots rallied late, Mount Saint Joseph made plays in the final minute to pull out a 57-53 win.
Junior forward Amani Hansberry scored a game-high 22 points, while sophomore guard Bryson Tucker scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half. Senior forward Noah Jones made a big contribution late as the Gaels improved to 12-3 overall and 4-2 in the Baltimore Catholic League. John Carroll, which got 17 points from senior forward Cesar Tchilombo, is 7-7 and 2-3 in the BCL.
“At halftime, Coach Clatchey got in our ear and we just stepped up to the challenge,” Hansberry said. “I just feel like him being hard on us pushed us to get over the line.”
Each team has many of the same challenges during the coronavirus pandemic, with players occasionally ruled out, practices not guaranteed and games getting postponed. On Friday, the Gaels were without junior guard Austin Abrams, which put other players in unfamiliar spots.
But tough defense and poise down the stretch helped them close out the tight win. After the Patriots rallied from a second-half double-digit deficit to tie the game at 53 on Tyson Commander’s driving layup with 53 seconds to play, the Gaels hunkered down on defense with back-to-back stops. Three free throws from Jones and one from Hansberry closed the door.
“I thought our defense was pretty good,” Clatchey said. “We did a really good job on Commander and had good game management and did enough to find a way to win.”
With a 25-23 advantage going into the third quarter, the Gaels found their stride at both ends with a 10-2 run that featured five straight points from Tucker and a three-point play from Hansberry to take a 35-25 lead.
The persistent Patriots, who got 13 points from Commander and four 3-pointers from TJ Vaughn, rallied in the fourth quarter. Commander made his only 3-pointer to get the offense going, Vaughn hit his fourth 3-pointer midway through and Tchilombo converted a three-point play to cut the lead to 53-51 with 1:18 to play.
After Commander tied the game at 53 with the strong drive to the basket, it looked like the visiting team was poised for a victory. The Gaels had a different plan.
“You just have to slow down and think and just play your game,” Tucker said.
John Carroll coach Seth Goldberg saw stretches of his team at its best, but not enough to pull out the tough road win.
“Hats off to them — they came out tough from the start,” he said. “We struggled in the first half to be us, and as the game wore, our guys did respond. But it’s tough when you play against good teams — you got to play for 32 minutes. I’m excited I get to coach these guys and we’ll continue to figure out how to be more consistent in what we’re trying to do.”
Both teams return to the court with home games Sunday. The Gaels will host St. Maria Goretti at noon, while the Patriots take on St. Vincent Pallotti at 2 p.m.
JC – Commander 13, Basima 7, Tchilombo 17, Vaughn 14, Chinnia-Falline 2. Totals: 20 7-11 53
MSJ – Hansberry 22, Tucker 14, Mess 4, Valentine 9, Jones 8. Totals: 21 12-20 57
Half: MSJ, 25-23