Loyola stuns top-ranked St. Frances in double overtime
by Joe DiBlasi
History does in fact repeat itself.
Over the years when St. Frances Academy visits Loyola Blakefield in MIAA A Conference/Baltimore Catholic League basketball play, you can always expect suspense, drama and excitement.
It was more of the same Friday on Jerry Savage Court at Blakefield. Actually, it probably had more drama than any of their previous battles at Loyola, as the Dons pushed the top-ranked Panthers into double overtime before upsetting them, 81-80. It was the first setback this year for St. Frances in either the MIAA A Conference and/or the Baltimore Catholic League.
Senior JJ Halaby sank two free throws with 2.5 seconds left in the second overtime to give the Dons the lead and the Panthers’ desperation three-point heave, at the buzzer, was off the mark, setting off a court storming by the Loyola student body. It was the first setback this year for St. Frances in MIAA A Conference and BCL play.
Shaw said the home crowd gave the Dons a lot of energy.
“We stayed together and played hard,” said Shaw.
It’s the Dons’ third victory in the past five years over St. Frances on their home court. Loyola won last year, 71-68, after the Panthers won, 79-78, in 2016. St Frances won three years ago, 54-48, following a Dons’ 64-59 triumph in 2014.
Over that five-year span Loyola has scored 342 points and St. Frances has scored 340. That’s how close these games have been at Blakefield between the Panthers and the Dons.
In Friday night’s classic, both teams had numerous chances to win down the stretch, but the Dons were able to prevail when they got two clutch free throws from Halaby, who netted 23 points in the contest.
In addition, Cameron Shaw finished the night with 26 points for the Dons in a game that had more twists and turns than a roller coaster ride on Space Mountain at Disneyland.
“We got some key stops when we had to and we made our shots,” said Halaby.
Halaby also hit a free throw with 25 seconds left in regulation to give Loyola a 65-63 lead.
On the other end of the floor the Panthers’ Rajeir Jones sank two free throws to tie the game with 14 seconds left and send it to overtime.
In the first overtime senior Elijah Epps, who led the Panthers with 18 points, hit a 3-pointer, one minute into the OT, giving St. Francis a five-point lead. The Dons battled back as Halaby hit a three with 40 seconds left and Shaw hit a three with 25 seconds left to tie the game, 75-75, and send it into a second overtime.
Jones put the Panthers up, 77-75, one minute into the second overtime, but junior Connor Hepting answered for the Dons with a deep three, his fourth triple of the night and the one that counted the most.
When Epps made a put-back with nine seconds to go in the second OT, things looked good for St. Frances. On the other end of the floor, Halaby was fouled and sealed the win with his two free throws.
“It was an amazing game, an amazing win for our kids,” said Dons coach Josh Davalli.
“It was great for our seniors to go out this way (on Senior Night) and everybody contributed. Everybody that got in there played well. We executed when we had to. They are a great team, and we had to fight hard to get this win. We’ve had two other double overtime games this season that we lost.”
Davalli credited his “Big Three” of Shaw, Halaby and Hepting. Hepting, a junior, finished with 14 points including four 3-pointers.
“Shaw and Halaby have been shooting well all year and they’ve been very important to our team. Conner (Hepting) has stepped up lately as a scoring threat for us,” said Davalli. “We are very happy with the win and it gives us confidence. We feel like we can play with the top teams in the league now with the playoffs approaching.”
The victory was a boost for a Dons (14-12 overall, 8-8 MIAA A, 4-9 BCL), who are chasing the fourth and final MIAA A playoff spot out of the Red Division. Loyola has a half-game advantage over Calvert Hall (7-8 MIAA A) with two games including a match at The Hall this Friday in the regular season finale.
It was the first area loss for St. Frances (29-3, 14-1 MIAA A, 13-1 BCL), which had its 14-game winning streak snapped. Edward Ferguson finished with 16 points for the Panthers, Jones had 15, Adrian Baldwin 14 and Jordan Toles had 12.
Despite their torrid pace, Panthers coach Nick Myles knew winning at Loyola would be a major challenge.
“I’m proud of our guys. This was a tough atmosphere and it’s always tough when you are on top and you are the hunted,” said Myles. “Coach Davalli had his team ready to play, in front of a great home crowd with a great atmosphere on senior night for them.”
It was a memorable night for the Dons, who honored seniors Shaw, Chid Nnake, Brendan Helwig and Halaby.
“This was simply a team win,” said Hepting.
LOYOLA BLAKEFIELD 81, NO. 1 ST. FRANCES ACADEMY 80 (2 OT)
SF 17 19 14 15 10 5 — 80
LOY 19 19 8 19 10 6 — 81
ST. FRANCES: Jones 15. Baldwin 14, Murphy 4, Epps 18, Ferguson 16, Diop 1, Toles 12.
LOYOLA: Shaw 26, Halaby 23, D. Nnake 2, Hepting 14, Young 7, C. Nnake 4, Fischer 5.