St. Frances senior guard Elijah Epps scored 26 points as his No. 2 Panthers pushed past No. 5 Mount Saint Joseph Gaels, 81-75. (Glenn Graham/Baltimore Sun video)
Midway through the third quarter, the Mount Saint Joseph basketball team took its first lead since the first quarter against visiting St. Frances.
The packed Smith Center was at its noisiest when Panthers guard Elijah Epps sank a 3-pointer.
The Gaels pushed, but the Panthers — behind their senior captain — always had an answer. Epps finished with 26 points, sophomore guard Jordan Toles added 23 and the No. 2 Panthers made 24 of 26 free throws to claim an 81-75 win over No. 5 Mount Saint Joseph on Friday.
St. Frances improved to 13-1 overall and 6-0 in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference’s Red Division and 7-0 in the Baltimore Catholic League. Mount Saint Joseph, which got 28 points from junior guard James Bishop and 26 from senior forward Jalen Smith, is 9-3 overall, 4-1 in the MIAA A Red and 3-2 in the BCL.
If there was one play that best described the effort the Panthers got from Epps, it came with 57 seconds remaining. He went up high to grab an offensive rebound between two Gaels and was fouled. He made both free throws — and hit all eight of his chances in the final 1:28 — to give the visitors a 76-70 lead.
“I just took my leadership and said, ‘Give me the ball,’ and got it done,” he said. “This win is very important — the rivalry has been crazy, for like 20 years. So you always want to win badly. We just never gave up and everybody contributed.”
The Panthers took a 42-35 lead on Epps’ spin to the basket with 6:39 to play in the third quarter — the biggest lead for either team at that point.
But the Gaels, who got strong inside play from Smith and some hot perimeter shooting from Bishop, wouldn’t back down. Bishop’s second straight 3-pointer ended an 11-2 run to give the Gaels a 46-44 lead with 4:31 to play in the third.
That’s when Epps answered with a 3-pointer to give the Panthers the lead back for good.
Protecting a 60-56 lead going into the fourth quarter, St. Frances was stronger on the boards and relentless in attacking the basket. The Panthers got to the foul line 16 times in the final quarter and made 15 tries.
St. Frances coach Nick Myles noted the strong team effort, but was quick to point out Epps’ performance. Epps shot 7-for-8 from the field and 10-for-10 on free throws while adding four rebounds and four assists.
Pikesville’s girls basketball team played its first game more than two weeks later than most teams, but thanks to 31 points from Tyra Robinson and perfect free-throw shooting in the final 18 seconds, the Panthers defeated Baltimore County rival Chesapeake, 71-63.
“It was just a total team effort and I’m so proud of my guys,” Myles said. “Elijah was just huge. He really stepped up and was big. … Senior captain and that’s what playing in the MIAA is all about. I’m just so happy for him getting some accolades because our younger guys are vey talented. He doesn’t necessarily look the part, but he’s a D-I basketball player and I hope some local schools come out and take a solid MIAA proven player.”
For Mount Saint Joseph, the defending champions in both leagues, it was just a matter of the Panthers having a little more in a hard-fought game.
Varsity Highlights Newsletter
Get the latest high school sports stories, photos and video from around the region.
“They just keep coming at you with quality players, athletes, bodies and it just wears you down,” Mount Saint Joseph coach Pat Clatchey said. “We just kind of struggled to score. We had two main guys that score and I thought they played well, but finding those other points is not easy for us.”
SF — Baldwin 15, Epps 26, Diop 6, Jones 5, Ferguson 2, Moore 2, Toles 23, Montague 2. Totals: 25 24-26 81