Poly knocks off IMG Academy; St. Frances dominates Oak Hill (VIDEO HERE!)
by Derek Toney
Entering Saturday’s inaugural East Coast Bump boys basketball mixer, St. Frances Academy and Poly High were viewed as underdogs against national prep school powerhouses Oak Hill Academy from Virginia and Florida’s IMG Academy.
Oak Hill and IMG have a combined 10 mythical national championships. Each boast rosters of major Division I recruits, which together, could contend for a NCAA Tournament berth.
However, by the time a huge crowd left UMBC’s Event Center late Saturday evening, one thing could be said: Toughness over talent.
No. 2 St. Frances and third-ranked Poly put Baltimore on the national landscape with victories in front of an estimated audience of 4,500. The Panthers handled Oak Hill, 80-61, while the Engineers pulled out a 62-60 decision over IMG.
“If you have confidence, you don’t have to worry about nothing else as long as you got heart,” said St. Frances senior guard Adrian Baldwin.
“We did it for the city,” said Poly point guard Rahim Ali. “We did it for the people who overlooked us.”
Nearly four decades after Dunbar and Calvert Hall College captured the imagination of Baltimore with their back-and-forth as the nation’s best high school program, St. Frances, a tiny East Baltimore private school and Poly, arguably the city’s best public academic school mainly known athletically for its powerhouse football teams under the late Augie Waibel, are now the darlings of Charm City basketball.
They did it in vastly different ways Saturday. In a matchup of nationally-ranked programs, St. Frances dominated Oak Hill from the opening tip.
University of South Alabama-bound forward Jamal West finished with 22 points, 11 rebounds and three assists for the Panthers, and Khyrie Staten added 20, three assists and three steals. Cam Thomas, a LSU signee, had 19 points for Oak Hill.
The defending MIAA A Conference and Baltimore Catholic League champ Panthers, ranked 16th nationally by ESPN, led by as many as 30 points against the country’s No. 2 team, according to MaxPreps (5th by ESPN). The East Chase Street school trailed only once (4-3).
“The guys were locked in and focused,” said St. Frances coach Nick Myles. “We’re having a special season and played only one bad game.”
“We did what we had to do,” said Staten. “I guess it was confidence.”
Staten, a junior guard, had the defining play for St. Frances Saturday in the third quarter. Staten beat an Oak Hill player for a loose ball, originally knocked away by Julian Reese. Staten got the ball to teammate Elijah Davis, who turned and gave it to Baldwin. Baldwin fired down a 3-pointer, putting the Panthers up 57-34.
With the recent departures of Jahmal Banks and Jordan Toles, who left after the new year to enroll early at Wake Forest and LSU, respectively, for football, Myles was confident in Staten assuming more responsibility.
Saturday was a coming out party for Staten.
“Khyrie is our unsung hero,” said Myles. “He’s a glue key like Rajar Jones and Daesean Wells was for us in the past. I’m glad he was able to show it on the big stage.”
The Panthers, who’ve played in several major tournaments the last several years including recently at IMG Academy, were comfortable Saturday on both ends of the court. They led 67-37 early in the fourth after Byron Ireland easily drove down the lane for a layup.
Baldwin, the reigning VSN Player of the Year, had 12 points and seven assists and Reese, a junior center, added 11 points, five rebounds and five blocks for St. Frances, which won its area-best 31st decision (31-3).
Longtime Oak Hill coach Steve Smith, whose team last played in Baltimore in 1995 in the Charm City Classic, said he was “helpless” watching his team get severely out-played by the Panthers.
“We haven’t played like that all year. They played extremely well and made shots,” said Smith, who’s guided Oak Hill to nine mythical national titles. “A lot of those shots were unguarded. It was a big game for both schools. We’ve played great teams, great schedule, but it didn’t look like it tonight.”
“We’re more disciplined, more tougher,” said West. “That’s how it is…Baltimore basketball.”
Ali rarely looks to score for Poly. He had one basket for the Engineers Saturday evening.
It was the biggest in program history. Ali’s score with 8.4 seconds left in regulation was the difference as Poly upset last year’s mythical national champions in the nightcap.
Junior guard Brandon Murray posted 21 points for the Engineers (19-2) and Marquette recruit Justin Lewis added 20. Jalen Springer, who will play next season for Tennessee, led IMG (18-6) with 18 points.
Poly led by as many as 16 points in the second half, but IMG rallied, tying the game at 60 on Matthew Murrell’s dagger from the corner with 20 seconds remaining.
Ali, thanks to a Murray pick, got free from Murrell, drove down the lane where Springer was waiting. He went up and, with his body twisting away from Springer, flipped the ball off the glass with his left hand.
After doing a flex pose for a camera, Ali had to be helped off the court for a cramp.
Pain never felt so good.
“They weren’t expecting me to take the shot,” said Ali, who had three points. “The lane opened up and I took the shot.”
Poly coach Sam Brand, who ran off the floor in excitement when the final buzzer sounded, was calmed as Ali brought the ball up.
“So he’s dribbling across half court and the whole bench is saying ‘you got a time out coach,’ and I said, ‘The ball’s in Rah Rah’s hands,'” said Brand. “‘Rah Rah closes games, that’s what point guards do.”
The Engineers stormed the court after Tamir Hassan’s 3-pointer fell short of the rim and time expired. Behind an intense defensive effort on the perimeter and Murray, Lewis and freshman Kwame Evans battling against IMG’s big front line, Poly closed the first half on a 15-0 run, capped with Murray getting a shot to fall off the glass right before the buzzer, for a 35-25 advantage.
The Cold Spring Lane school, playing in front of a pro-Baltimore audience, kept it going to start the second half. Poly led 45-29 with 5:48 left in the third quarter after Evans dropped a 3-point from the corner.
IMG, which featured six of Rivals.com’s Top 150 seniors, closed to 49-46 at the start of the fourth. The Engineers weathered the push as Murray’s jumper put them up, 53-46.
Murray, whose recruiting stock is rising rapidly with Georgetown, which had coach and Basketball Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing in attendance Saturday along with coaches from Kansas State and Virginia Tech, found Evans (16 points) for another dagger, giving the Engineers a 56-48 advantage with 4:33 left in regulation.
The mega-talented Ascenders kept coming, and Poly didn’t flinched.
“The whole season we’ve been talking about this game,” said Lewis, the area’s top senior prospect. “We executed our game plan. We weren’t going to match their size, but they weren’t going to take our heart.”
Toughness over talent.
EAST COAST BUMP
No. 2 St. Frances Academy 80, Oak Hill (VA) Academy 61
Oak Hill – Thomas 19, Okpomo 14, Maddox 12, Robinson 6, Jones 4, Exewiro 3. Totals 20 14-17 61.
St. Frances – West 22, Staten 20, Baldwin 12, Reese 11, Ireland 7, Lamothe 4, Davis 2, Robinson 2. Totals 30 13-14 80.
Oak Hill 10 16 13 22 – 61
St. Frances 22 19 24 15 – 80
No. 3 Poly 62, IMG Academy (FL) 60
IMG – Springer 18, Diabate 14, Murrell 10, Walker 8, Williams 4, Hassan 2, Huntley-Hatfield 2, Kidd 2. Totals 25 7-7 60.
Poly – Murray 21, Lewis 20, Evans 16, Ali 3, Lindsay 2. Totals 18 21-28 62.
IMG 16 9 19 16 – 60
Poly 12 23 14 13 – 62