Many teams have trouble matching up with St. Frances’ agile 6-foot-3 forward Angel Reese and for the second time this season, she made the difference against McDonogh.
Reese, an All-Metro first-team selection as a freshman last season, had 24 points and 17 rebounds to lead the No. 1 Panthers to a 56-46 victory over No. 2 McDonogh on Tuesday night. With the win, the Panthers clinched the top seed for next week’s Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference tournament.
The Panthers (18-4) improved to 8-0 in the A Conference and even if they lost both of their remaining conference games, they would still have the head-to-head edge on McDonogh (18-3, 6-2) if the Eagles win their final two games. McDonogh has clinched the second seed.
To Reese, who scored 24 points and had eight rebounds in the 68-48 win over the Eagles on Jan. 19, this Panthers team is finally starting to hit its stride. It’s ranked No. 20 nationally in MaxPreps Xcellent 25.
“It is a tough conference,” Reese said. “We just have to keep working just to get back to Stevenson every year. It is a lot of hard work. We’ve been working since July and we did have a rough start [against nationally ranked out-of town teams], but we’re coming together. It’s like glue, and I think our team will be really good by the end.”
The host Eagles got off to a quick start Tuesday night, scoring the first five points, but the Panthers answered with an 11-point run that included six points from Reese. The Panthers, who led by just one after three quarters of the first meeting, extended their lead to 35-24 at the half.
“This time we knew what to do against them,” said Reese, explaining that the Panthers wanted to stop the Eagles from driving for easy baskets.“We had a great first half. We did come out a little rough — they had five points — and they were 5-0 and we had to pick up the intensity.
McDonogh made its run at the start of the second half, cutting the lead to six on Aleah Nelson’s 3-pointer with 5:01 to go in the quarter. Just after Nia Clouden made a slick move to the hoop to boost the Panthers’ lead to 41-26, Reese picked up her third foul.
Jessica Booth and Nelson, who led the Eagles with 12 points, scored back-to-back to pull within 41-37, but the Panthers answered with eight straight points, thanks in part to five McDonogh turnovers. Two free throws from freshman Aniya Gourdine gave St. Frances a 49-37 lead with 11.2 seconds left in the quarter. The Eagles never got closer than within nine after that.
“We come out in the third quarter, make a great run, play with some intensity and some confidence. Of course, those runs take a little out of the tank. They’re hard to sustain. I thought we kind of fell back to our errant ways,” said Eagles coach Brad Rees, whose team turned the ball over 25 times.
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“You can’t spot a team that good 11 points. You have to burn all this energy to get back within six and the tank’s empty and they’re right back up to 11.”
The Panthers haven’t lost in conference competition since the semifinals of the 2015 tournament, when McDonogh beat them and went on to win the championship. Since then, the Panthers have won nine of 10 meetings with the Eagles. McDonogh’s only win came at the Bishop Walsh Girls Invitational Tournament in Cumberland in 2016. Last season, St. Frances won all four meetings including the Bishop Walsh championship over the Eagles — the only losses McDonogh had all season.