With so much experienced talent back from last year’s championship season, the No. 1 Mount Saint Joseph basketball team always believes it can make the right plays in important moments.
That confidence showed up time and again Wednesday at Mount Carmel.
After clamp-down defense staked the No. 1 Gaels to a first-half lead, they answered every second-half push from the host Cougars to claim a sturdy 72-63 win in Essex.
Mount Saint Joseph, defending champions in the Baltimore Catholic League and Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association Conference, improved to 6-0 overall and 2-0 in both leagues. Four Gaels scored in double figures with senior forward Amani Hansberry leading the way with 19 points.
The Cougars, who got 15 points from guard Andrew Dixon, are 5-2 overall, 1-1 in the BCL and 2-1 in the MIAA A Conference.
Hansberry, last year’s All-Metro Player of the Year, said all the work the Gaels put in together shows up when it’s needed the most.
“We’ve been playing together for a long time, almost two years now with all the summer workouts and stuff, so that late-game situations is really where it clicks, when we’re going to be able to find each other,” he said.
Mount Saint Joseph slowed the Mount Carmel offense down in the first half and forced eight turnovers to claim a 31-22 halftime lead.
Every time the Cougars got things going on offense, the Gaels had a response. Midway through the third quarter, the home team scored on four straight possessions, but the Gaels answered every time.
After Mount Carmel forward Omarion Reid (14 points) followed a miss to cut the lead to 43-35, Hansberry hit a turnaround jumper in the paint and then Austin Abrams (16 points) turned a Gaels steal into a three-point play in transition to build the advantage to 48-35 with 2:17 left in the third quarter.
The Cougars were persistent, cutting the lead to 67-61 with 1:08 to play, but the Gaels knocked down five free throws to close out the win.
“We were just trying to run our sets and it was kind of hard with their pressure, so we got to give it to everybody who stepped up,” Hansberry said. “Austin had a couple buckets, Ty [Farrell] had a couple buckets, I had a couple buckets and Ace [Valentine] was dishing so everybody was playing their role and we pulled through.”
Farrell had nine of his 17 points in the fourth quarter to help seal the win with Valentine adding 10 points to go with some key assists down the stretch.
“They were playing hard, so we just had to fight back and we knew we couldn’t give up and give them the edge because when they get their energy it’s going to be a real close game instead of this moderately close game,” Farrell said.
Mount Carmel coach Trevor Quinn looked at the early turnovers and the game’s slower pace as the difference. Drazen Sinigoj, who finished with 12 points, hit three 3-pointers in the second half to keep the Cougars close.
“I thought if we didn’t turn it over it was back and forth,” Quinn said. “We were able to score in the halfcourt and they scored in the halfcourt. We just turned it over a few too many times early.”
Both teams return to action Friday night with Mount Saint Joseph hosting John Carroll at 6 p.m. and Mount Carmel traveling to St. Maria Goretti at 7 p.m.
MSJ — Valentine 10, Abrams 16, Farrell 17, Wingfield 3, Clark 3, Hansberry 19, Galloway 4. Totals: 29 13-18 72
MC — Dixon 15, Tatum 9, Kalu 6, Sinigoj 12, Reid 14, Mordi 5, Scott 2. Totals: 27 7-13 63
Half: MSJ, 31-22