Panthers upend No. 3 John Carroll; Epps scores 14 (VIDEO HERE!!)
Elijah Epps remembers the frustration that was St. Frances Academy boys’ basketball last season. It’s been a vastly different story this season and Epps doesn’t want to miss a thing.
The second-ranked Panthers defeated No. 3 John Carroll School, 71-61, in a MIAA A Conference/Baltimore Catholic League contest in front of an estimated standing-room audience of 1,100 inside Phelps Gym in east Baltimore. Epps led St. Frances with 14 points and Rajear Jones added 13.
The East Chase Street school pulled away from the Patriots over the final six minutes of regulation, winning its area-best 18th decision. The win keeps St. Frances with a clean sheet in MIAA A (9-0; 5-0 Red Division) and BCL competition.
Panthers coach Nick Myles said depth and maturity was the difference.
“You never know who’s going to step up. I’m pretty sure we had four, five guys in double figures every night,” said Myles. “When you do that, you’re tough to beat every night.”
“Last year, we ended the season with six players. Our tallest player was 6-5,” said Epps, who came off the bench Wednesday after injuring his foot in St. Frances’ win over Patterson Saturday evening. “This year, we have pieces and can come at teams in different ways.”
Epps, a 6-foot-3 senior guard, Myles calls “the most underrated guard in the Mid-Atlantic region,” added three assists Tuesday, including a feed to Jordan Toles for a dunk, giving St. Frances a 59-53 advantage with 3 minutes, 8 seconds left in regulation. Adrian Baldwin extended the Panthers’ lead to 61-53 with an and-one score.
The Patriots (10-4, 5-1 MIAA A overall; 3-0 MIAA A Black Division, 3-3 BCL) climbed back to 61-56 after Nigel Haughton’s 3-pointer from the corner with 1:59 to play. St. Frances answered as Toles found Edward Ferguson in the corner. Ferguson, a North Carolina A&T commit, buried a 3-pointer, pushing the Panthers’ lead back to eight.
Toles, a high flying 6-3 guard, put the finishing touches with a windmill dunk, setting off a celebration by the St. Frances student section. Last season, the Panthers (15-19) had arguably their worst season since becoming a varsity program 30 years ago under BCL Hall of Fame coach William Wells.
The Panthers lost 10 games by five points or less last season. This season, St. Frances is 3-1 in games decided by five or less, including a 78-73 overtime decision at John Carroll in late November.
The rematch Wednesday didn’t disappoint. Neither team had a lead larger than five in the opening half.
Trailing 32-30 at intermission, John Carroll open the second half with a 7-0 spurt, capped by Immanuel Quickley’s 3-pointer for a 37-32 advantage. The Panthers answered with a 12-2 run as Jones hit a 3-pointer for a 44-39 lead with four minutes left in the third.
Tied at 51 in the fourth, Ferguson found Epps for a score. The Panthers came up with back-to-back defensive stops, leading to two free throws each from senior center Koran Moore and Ferguson, advancing the lead to 57-51 with 3:55 left in regulation.
St. Frances never trailed again.
“Everybody was saying Immanuel wasn’t there so let’s see when he comes back,” said Epps. “He came back, the same result happened. Now you see who’s the best team in the city is.”
Quickley, a Kentucky recruit who missed the first meeting because of mononucleosis, had 15 points Wednesday. Rutgers-bound guard Montez Mathis finished with a game-high 21 points and Yavuz Gultekin added 16.
Patriots coach John Zito said his team didn’t do the little things in the fourth quarter.
“We didn’t rebound well and share the ball on offense,” said Zito. “They [St. Frances] were a little tougher than us.”
Myles lauded the performance of 6-8 freshman reserve Detwan Montague, who filled in after Moore fouled out in the fourth. Baldwin, a sophomore floor leader, finished with 13 points, nine rebounds and seven assists Wednesday.
“We’re excited about the future and excited about now,” said Myles, whose team plays No. 1 Poly Monday at Goucher College after weekend matches with Philadelphia’s Martin Luther King (Friday) and Mount Carmel (Sunday). “Eighteen and two, you couldn’t ask for a better start to the season.”
No. 2 St. Frances Academy 71, No. 3 John Carroll School 61
John Carroll – Mathis 21, Gultekin 16, Quickley 15, Craig 2, Haughton 2. Totals 19 16-26 61.
St. Frances – Epps 14, Jones 13, Baldwin 12, Moore 9, Toles 8, Diop 5, Montague 2. Totals 25 14-25 71.
John Carroll 14 16 18 13 – 61
St. Frances 17 15 19 20 – 71