With only three players back from last year's championship team and no seniors on the roster, it would be understandable if the Mount Saint Joseph basketball team needed time to get comfortable on the big stage.
That wasn't the case Friday night. Hosting one of its biggest rivals, No. 2 St. Frances, in front of a sold-out crowd at the Smith Center, the No. 4 Gaels hit timely baskets, played strong team defense and coasted to an impressive 62-45 win over the Panthers.
Junior guard Randy Miller scored 15 points and added six rebounds, junior forward Daveyon Barnes had 14 points and eight boards and sophomore point guard Justice Kendall finished with 12 points and took care of the basketball.
Others made timely contributions as Mount Saint Joseph — defending champions in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference and Baltimore Catholic League — improved to 7-0 overall, 3-0 in the MIAA and 2-0 in the BCL. In its opener in both leagues, St. Frances (5-1) fell for the first time after averaging 77 points in their five wins.
"We came ready," Barnes said. "Early on, we weren't sure that we were going to get it but coach [Pat] Clatchey kept us together and we played for each other. It's a great feeling — our young fellas stepped up today. It was a good win."
The Mount Saint Joseph defense — freshman forward Jalen Smith had six blocked shots — was consistent throughout and the home team also took care on the boards.
When Gaels junior guard Miles Wilson scored his second straight basket early in the second quarter, Mount Saint Joseph opened a 20-12 advantage. But the Panthers answered with a 7-0 run — a three-point play from junior guard Daquan Bracey the big play — to cut the lead to 20-19 with 4:38 until halftime.
It could have been a time when the young Gaels faltered, but they instead got a basket from Kendall and then two more from Miller. When sophomore guard Darryl Morsell (8 points) slammed an inside feed from Miller with 1:01 to play in the half, the Gaels restored order with a 28-19 lead. The home team took its first double digit lead at 39-29 when Kendall hit a 3-pointer with 2:26 to play in the third quarter.
The Panthers, who got 13 points from senior forward Josh Ayeni, got a 3-pointer from junior guard Khalil Richard to cut the lead to 44-36 with 6:55 left in the fourth quarter. But they would go more than three minutes before scoring again as the Gaels pulled away.
"For such a young team, the talent is there but those guys have never played in an environment like that, so it was just a great team win with different guys stepping up doing different things," Clatchey said. "Everybody that touched the floor contributed to help win that game."