Poly upends No. 2 St. Frances boys with late comeback; Panther girls slip past No. 4 Poly (VIDEO HERE!)
by Derek Toney
The sometime emotional roller coaster ride that is Poly High boys basketball hit another exhilarating high Saturday night.
The fourth-ranked Engineers defeated No. 2 St. Frances Academy, 59-58, in the William Wells Challenge in front of an estimated 2,600 at Towson University’s SECU Arena. No. 2 St. Frances girls posted a 61-55 victory over fourth-ranked Poly in the opening match.
In the first meeting between the Baltimore City powers since 2015, the Panthers got 22 points and 11 rebounds from Angel Reese and clutch free shooting from Aniya Gourdine to turn away the Engineers.
“They [Poly] were prepared for our pressure and their kids attacked the basket,” said St. Frances coach Jerome Shelton. “Their effort level was very high. They made us work hard.”
The three-time reigning IAAM A Conference champ Panthers led 45-32 with a little over 7 minutes left in regulation, only to see Poly worked its way back to within 52-50 after Dasia Townes’ putback with 2 minutes, 1 second left in regulation. Reese converted two free throws for a 4-point advantage, but the junior standout fouled out with 68 seconds to play.
Gourdine picked up the slack, hitting runner to give St. Frances a 56-51 lead with 46 seconds left. She converted 5 of 6 free throws in the final 31.5 seconds, finishing with 17 points and six assists.
“We knew we had to defend, rebound and make free throws,” said Gourdine, who has emerged as St. Frances’ next best player behind Reese.
Reese, a preseason USA Today All-American, began having her way in the paint, scoring eight of St. Frances’ first 10 points in the second half. The Panthers led 42-30 entering the fourth, but Poly refused to relent.
The Engineers, who won the Baltimore City Division I title last season, got a spark from senior Brashae Rice, whose 3-pointer and two free throws brought them to within 50-46 with 3:15 remaining in regulation. Townes grabbed Janya Lilly’s miss off a drive and put back in the basket, making it 52-50.
Rice led the Engineers with 15 points, and Townes added 11. Lilly and Cache Wilson each finished with 10.
After wilting against nationally-ranked St. John’s College (DC) and New Hope Academy, Poly played with a purpose against its Baltimore City private school counterpart.
“They came out with a lot more fuel and sometimes I think that’s associated with who you know…It’s what the generation is,” said Engineers coach Kendall Peace-Able. “Before, if we stepped on the court, we wanted to win no matter what…I think we’ve grown in a different way since the New Hope game, doing some things differently in-house as a program that’s propelled them forward, not just the social things.”
Ian Wallace knows his role for Poly boys basketball.
“My position is be ready to shoot at all times,” said Wallace.
So when the lanky 6-foot-6 forward received the ball on the 3-point elbow with time fleeting in regulation, Wallace was “shot ready.” His dagger with 22 seconds to play was the difference as the Engineers pulled off a thrilling rally.
Junior guard/forward Brandon Murray finished with 21 points for Poly (12-5), and Lewis added 16 and 12 rebounds. Chicago State University recruit Rajeir Jones led St. Frances (22-4) with 21 and junior Jamal West had 15.
The Engineers overcame a nine-point deficit in the final five minutes, capturing a third victory in the last four meetings with the reigning Baltimore Catholic League champion Panthers. St. Frances led by 11 points late in the third.
Nearly two weeks ago, Poly blew a 14-point fourth quarter lead against Patterson, losing in overtime. With Lewis out because of a suspension, Poly rallied past Edmondson Tuesday.
The two-time reigning Class 3A state champ Engineers seem to feed off adversity.
“Our whole program is built off showing character in adverse situations. If you grow up in Baltimore, you need to do that as a man, and I felt our guys did that so many ways” said Poly coach Sam Brand. “Ian was a great example, Justin couldn’t get it going, but was big down the stretch. Rahim Ali could’ve try to do too many things down the stretch, but instead to just executed. Our team stayed the course.”
“We have a lot of ups and downs in this program, but one thing we know, we’re going to stay together as family,” said Wallace. “We just stayed together.”
Tightly contested though the first 20 minutes, St. Frances started pulling away midway in the third quarter with West hitting back-to-back 3-pointers and Jordan Toles getting a friendly bounce on a jumper for a 41-32 advantage. Two free throws from West (12 points in third) left the East Baltimore school with a 46-35 advantage with a minute left in the quarter.
It was 54-45 with 5:07 left in regulation after a 4-point series with Jones popping a jumper with Baldwin getting fouled on the play. He converted two free throws.
Murray got a dunk, and the Engineers had life.
“The heart of this team is special,” said Murray, who hit the game-winner in Tuesday’s victory over Edmondson. “We always just pushed through. I’m just so happy right now.”
Murray’s 3-pointer with 1:14 left in regulation brought the Engineers to 58-56. West was fouled by Lewis with 56.1 seconds, but missed the front end of an one-and-one. After a Poly timeout with 45 seconds left in regulation, Lewis found Wallace, who hit the clutch shot.
It was Wallace’s only points Saturday.
“Ian’s our sniper. If we run a play at the end of game and one of our guys who go through is double teamed, we want them to hit Ian” said Brand. “When the ball got in his hand, I knew it was going in. He was ready.”
Wallace was whistled for a push on Toles, sending him to the line for the double bonus with 15.8 seconds to play. Toles missed both attempts and Murray secured the rebound and was fouled.
Murray missed the front end of the one-and-one, giving St. Frances another opportunity. Baldwin missed a 3-pointer from the top of arch, and another attempt hit off the front iron after getting a loose ball.
The Panthers weren’t able to corral the ball and Poly celebrated its biggest victory of the season to date.
“We got to close out games better,” said St. Frances coach Nick Myles. “The kids played hard. We had the game in control the whole night.
It’s a rivalry game so the kids are hurt, but I told them it doesn’t stop us from our goals. We’ll play this game next year and it’ll be fun again.”
The Poly/St. Frances game has become a must-see event the last couple of years. Last year, a standing room only crowd at Goucher College saw St. Frances defeated the Engineers.
“This reminds me of Calvert Hall and Dunbar back in the day with some of those storied games,” said Brand sitting inside of a quiet SECU Arena late Saturday evening. “Private/public, two of best teams going at it, big-time talent, a lot of love and hate between teams. It’s just Baltimore basketball.”
No. 2 St. Frances Academy girls 61, No. 4 Poly 55
at SECU Arena
Poly – Lilly 10, Townes 11, Rice 15, Jones 3, Ferguson 3, Wilson 10, Gross 2, Ridgeway 1. Totals 17 18-27 55.
St. Frances – Reese 22, Gourdine 17, Turner 6, Humphrey 3, Hinton 8, Hughes 5. Totals 19 19-32 61.
Poly 13 12 5 25 – 55
St. Frances 13 15 14 19 – 61
No. 4 Poly boys 59, No. 2 St. Frances Academy 58
at SECU Arena
Poly – Murray 20, Lewis 16, Ali 11, Walker 5, Lindsey 3, Wallace 3, Lamothe 1. Totals 21 13-17 59.
St. Frances – Jones 21, West 15, Baldwin 9, Toles 9, Brown 2, Busby 2. Totals 20 13-18 58.
Poly 9 17 11 22 – 59
St. Frances 9 16 21 12 – 58