Heading into Saturday’s boys basketball showdown against No. 1 Poly, St. Frances called it just one of a number big games in its demanding 35-game regular-season schedule.
But after the No. 3 Panthers had earned a 57-53 win at the William Wells Classic — in front of an overflow crowd at Morgan State’s Hill Field House — senior point guard and fourth-quarter savior Adrian “Ace” Baldwin finally made an admission when asked if it was more than just another game.
Smiling, he simply said: “Yeah, it was.”
With a hassling zone defense, the Panthers slowed an Engineers offense that had been overwhelming other opponents.
Senior forward Jamal West dominated inside with a 15-point, 11-rebound performance, and Byron Ireland (11 points) and Khyrie Staten (nine points) made big contributions in the first three quarters.
And when the Panthers had a 39-38 lead going into the fourth quarter, Baldwin, the reigning All-Metro Player of the Year, took over by scoring 11 of his 13 points. St. Frances improves to 25-3, while Poly drops to 14-2.
“I was down in the first half, but my teammates and coaches picked me up and told me to keep playing and I’d be good,” said Baldwin, who added eight assists with the last of his five steals coming in the final minute. “I just play my game and do what I have to do to win.”
On the Panthers’ first possession of the fourth quarter, Baldwin made a 3 pointer from the top of the key — his first field goal of the game — and gave a reassuring nod to the bench. It provided a 42-38 advantage that the Panthers would maintain.
West scored two more baskets, Baldwin added a jumper and five free throws down the stretch and the defense continued to bother the Engineers.
“There were a lot of people there and it felt like it was us against the city and we had to show them whose city it is. It’s not their city anymore, it’s ours,” West said. “Defense wins games and we knew that. We knew what we had to do. We knew that we had to be more disciplined than they were — that’s all that matters.”
Aside from a brief run in the second quarter — nine straight points that helped take a 26-19 lead with 2:30 to play in the half — the Engineers didn’t resemble the team that went in averaging 78 points per game and had soundly defeated Baltimore City League rival Edmondson, 83-37, on Tuesday.
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“We saw they struggled a little bit against the zone and our guys were aggressive,” St. Frances coach Nick Myles said. “We didn’t rebound well out of it, but they didn’t make shots. We kind of slowed them down and I thought if we slowed the pace, we’d win the game.”
Justin Lewis led Poly with 18, while Brandon Murray added 15.
“We’ve been used to scoring the ball a lot easier than that all year,” Poly coach Sam Brand said. “Credit to them on stagnating our offense – they outplayed us tonight.”
Poly will try to bounce back on Tuesday when it plays Reginald Lewis, while St. Frances returns to action at McDonogh on Wednesday.
SF – Baldwin 13, West 15, Ireland 11, Reese 4, Staten 9, Jahn. Lamothe 5. Totals: 21 12-22 57