The No. 1 St. Frances girls basketball team didn’t play well on defense Wednesday night against No. 3 Roland Park until they had to.
In the final 41 seconds, Aniya Gourdine had a steal, Angel Reese had a block and the host Panthers disrupted the Reds’ final attempt to tie the game, preserving a 53-50 victory in an Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference matchup.
Roland Park took a 50-49 lead on Maria Ferariu’s fourth 3-pointer of the game with 1:04 left, but Reese put St. Frances ahead with a follow shot with 41 seconds to go. Panthers coach Jerome Shelton called a timeout and when the Reds tried to inbound the ball under the St. Frances basket, Gourdine snatched it.
The freshman didn’t get a shot but senior point guard Nia Clouden did and was fouled. Clouden hit both free throws with 21 seconds left for a 53-50 lead.
With eight seconds to go, Roland Park’s Ja’Niah Henson drove to the basket, but Reese swatted away her shot and Shelton called another time out.
Reds coach Scott Buckley set up a play for Ferariu to shoot a 3-pointer from the corner. Clouden said the Panthers expected that play and Taneara Moore kept Ferariu from getting the ball, forcing the Reds to go to their second option. Henson’s shot from the top of the arc missed and time ran out.
Clouden, a two-time All-Metro player headed for Michigan State, acknowledged that the Panthers (10-4, 2-0 conference) had not played well defensively most of the game.
“I think at the end of the game we just locked down and focused on getting the job done and winning,” Clouden said. “Angel had a big block and we secured the win from there. [Gourdine’s steal] was a big deal because that made it a three-point lead, so they would have had to make a 3, so it made it harder for them. I think we need to close out the shooters better and basically get more effort on the defensive end.”
The Panthers also struggled on offense as Clouden and 6-foot-3 sophomore Reese, an All-Metro forward, combined for 44 points. Reese had 24 along with 16 rebounds. Clouden had five assists to go with her 20 points.
“We could have played better,” Shelton said. “We had too many opportunities to finish plays and we had some mental breakdowns on defense that allowed them to stay in the game, but that’s what conference games are all about. We know one another and so people fight to the end and they stay with you, so you just have to gut it out and just make the plays at the end.”
The Panthers, two-time defending A Conference champions, haven’t lost a league game since 2015. All of their losses this winter have been to teams ranked nationally in the top 17 of MaxPreps’ Xcellent 25.
Roland Park also played a tough early schedule, including winning a bracket that included several nationally ranked teams at the Nike Tournament of Champions before Christmas. The Reds’ only other conference loss was to No. 2 McDonogh last week.
Roland Park (14-4, 3-2) trailed by as many as nine early in the second half before tying the game at 40 on two free throws by Aniyah Carpenterto end the third quarter. Mir McLean’s follow shot to open the fourth quarter gave them their first lead at 42-40. They never trailed by more than two until Clouden’s final free throws.
“I thought we played hard and we played well,” Buckley said. “We had opportunities. We couldn’t close it out. I think we had the mentality to get it done. We didn’t hit a shot down the stretch.”
On Friday night, the Panthers host No. 3 McDonogh, which is on a 13-game winning streak. The Reds host No. 9 John Carroll on Friday night before facing No. 6 Western at the Public vs. Private Challenge on Saturday at McDonogh.
1 St. Frances 53, 3 Roland Park 50
RP—Henson 9, McLean 11, Carpenter 6, Green 4, Robinson 2, Ferariu 18. Totals 17 12-15 50.
SF—Gourdine 2, Reese 24, Pinnick 7, Clouden 20. Totals 21 8-14 53. Half: SF, 26-24.