No. 3 Panthers stay unbeaten in MIAA A and BCL with 81-75 triumph; Epps scores 26 (VIDEO HERE!!)

St. Frances’ Jordan Toles extends to capture a rebound during Friday night’s MIAA A/Baltimore Catholic League basketball match with Mount St. Joseph. The sophomore had 23 points, helping the No. 3 Panthers to an 81-75 decision over the fifth-ranked Gaels in front of standing-room only audience at The Smith Center in Irvington. (photo – Jimmy Fields Sr.)

by Joe DiBlasi

Basketball games between rivals St. Frances Academy and Mount St. Joseph have become such a hot ticket in recent years that advanced sales tickets are usually sold out days ahead of tip-off. Such was the case again on Friday night as an overflow capacity crowd packed the Smith Center in Irvington to see the old foes square off in another MIAA A Conference/Baltimore Catholic League tilt.

On the floor, a trio of Panthers combined for 64 points to help third-ranked St. Frances Academy remain unbeaten in the MIAA A Conference and the Baltimore Catholic League basketball standings with a hard-earned 81-75 victory over the fifth-ranked Gaels.

St. Frances (13-1 overall, 6-0 MIAA A, 7-0 BCL) led by Elijah Epps, sophomore Jordan Toles, and Adrian Baldwin. The east Baltimore school was a blistering 24-of-26 from the free throw line with 15 of their 21 fourth-quarter points coming from the charity stripe.

Epps, a senior guard, was 8-for-8 from the line in the final two minutes of the game to help seal the win. Epps led the Panthers with 26 points, Toles had 23 and Baldwin added 15.

“The guys trusted in the process of playing together,” said St. Frances coach Nick Myles. “Elijah Epps has been so big for us all year. We had great balance; these young guys are going to be great. We got a total team effort.”

Jordan Toles, a star this past fall on the MIAA A champion Panther football team, had to leave the game late in the final quarter to catch a plane to join the football team in Arizona, where they will play a national televised game against Bingham (UT) on Saturday evening, after scoring 23 points for the Panthers.

Myles said, “He ran out of here because he has to get to that football game. He’s a great athlete and a great kid.”

The Gaels got another big effort from Jalen Smith and James Bishop. The dynamic duo combined for 54 points, but it wasn’t enough for defending MIAA A and BCL champs.

“They only missed two free throws for the whole game, said the veteran St. Joe coach Pat Clatchey. ”They are very talented and they have a lot of offensive weapons.”

Clatchey said that the key to the Panther win was a lack of defensive rebounding.

“We shouldn’t have fouled as much. We need to find another guy that can score,” he said.

Clatchey said Epps’ experience was critical as well.

“He has been through the wars. He is a grizzled veteran; he’s a good player,” said Clatchey. “He’s very efficient and he’s very productive.”

Bishop stepped up big in the third quarter when he nailed back-to-back threes with 4:28 to go to give the Mount a 46-44 lead. The Gaels’ lead was short-lived as Epps immediately answered on the other end with a three of his own to put his team ahead, 47-46.

The Panthers extended their lead to 60-56 at the end of third and they held on the rest of the way to take the victory.

“At the end of the game they made more plays than we did,” said Bishop. “Overall we played hard and had a good game.”

Adrian Baldwin (left) and Elijah Epps were clutch for No. 3 St. Frances Friday evening. Epps finished with 26 points, including 8-for-8 free throw shooting in the final two minutes, and Baldwin added 15 points and guided the Panthers’ offense as the East Chase Street school remained perfect in MIAA A and Baltimore Catholic League play.

The Panthers, whose lone loss came against defending Washington Catholic Athletic Conference champ Gonzaga College (DC) at the inaugural Charm City Challenge earlier this month, have some positive momentum heading into the holiday break.

“It’s a big rivalry game,” said Epps, whose team will play in the Hoodie’s House Classic in Charlotte next week. “I just wanted to win and I told my teammates to keep fighting to the end and never give up.”

SF      19  16  25  21  —   81
MSJ. 16  17  23  19  —   75
ST. FRANCES: Jones 5, Baldwin 15, Epps 26, Ferguson 2, Diop 6, Toles 23, Moore 2, Montague 2.
MOUNT ST. JOSEPH: Smith 26, Bishop 28, McMillan 9, Myers 5, McDonald 2, Crawley 3. Edokpayi 2.