IND continues mastery of Mercy in “The Game;” Taylor completes perfect run, wins MVP (VIDEO HERE!)


Institute of Notre Dame’s Grace Nelson (center) is overcome with emotion as teammates Sydney Paschall (left) and TaNiyah Scott celebrate victory in “The Game” Friday evening. The senior won team MVP honors as the Penguins claimed a seventh straight victory over rival Mercy in front of nearly 3,500 at Towson University’s SECU Arena.

by Katherine Dunn

The Institute of Notre Dame’s Grace Taylor stood on the court holding her MVP trophy as her emotions overwhelmed her shortly after Friday night’s rivalry basketball victory against Mercy.

The senior guard had just sparked IND to a 36-29 victory in the 54th edition of The Game before 3,400 fans at Towson University’s SECU Arena. The Penguins have won seven straight in the rivalry.

For Taylor, contemplating her part in that legacy so soon after it ended brought on a few tears and lots of hugs from her teammates, most of whom will be back next year.

“Words can’t really explain how I really feel,” she said. “I’m just really trying to get it all in, like this is it. This is my last time ever being back here and being on this court and playing, winning four years in a row, coming from three wins now to seven wins. It’s been a really long run and I’m going to miss it a lot next year.”

IND coach Sonya Howell was on the sideline for her first experience at The Game, the biggest rivalry game in Baltimore area girls sports. She said it was exactly as others had described it to her.

“It was pretty exciting,” Howell said. “I told the girls they’ve got to come out and play hard every quarter and they did that. Yeah, I can still hear all the noise in the gym, but they played well. It’s a tradition and it’s a great tradition and I’m proud to be part of it.”

The Penguins are rapidly making up ground in a rivalry that Mercy leads, 30-24. A big fourth quarter finish, especially with clutch free-throw shooting, gave IND bragging rights for another year.

Taylor scored six of her eight points and junior forward Niyona Smith added six of her game-high 11 points in the fourth quarter. Each hit four free throws and junior forward Brandi Swinton added two more for a perfect quarter from the line.

Despite an 11-and-a-half-minute scoring drought to open the second half, Mercy managed to pull within a point of the Penguins with about two minutes remaining in the non-conference IAAM showdown between the A Conference Penguins and the B Conference Magic.

An IND sign in the stands that read, “Welcome to the Igloo,” seemed appropriate, because both teams struggled through three quarters of chilly offense, shooting a combined 13-for-83.

The biggest lead of the game was eight, by IND a minute and half into the fourth quarter when Smith hit a pair of free throws. Mercy began chipping away at that lead when Lauren Panageotou hit a 3-pointer with 4:32 left for the first Magic basket in 11 minutes and 29 seconds.

Taylor answered with a short jumper before Mercy junior forward McKenna Carroll hit two free throws. Her teammate, sophomore guard Taylor Gilmore, added a layup after stealing the inbound pass that went right to her a few steps from the hoop.

Carroll then pulled Mercy within 26-25 on a layup assisted by Olivia Liszt with 2:09 to go.

Then the Penguins began their clutch free-throw shooting. Taylor hit two before sophomore guard Cydney Curtis converted a Mercy turnover to boost the IND lead to 30-25.

Carroll, who led the Magic with nine points and 13 rebounds, cut the lead to three with 1:04 left, but Taylor, Smith and Swinton combined for six free throws in the final 46 seconds to seal the win.

Smith, who also finished with 12 rebounds, said she knew free throws could be the key to winning the game.

“I knew this is what I had to do to keep the lead and keep us going and keep us mentally together and the energy to keep going, so I cleared everything out of my head, focused on the rim and knocked them down,” she said.

After Carroll cut the lead to 26-21, Howell called a time out to settle the Penguins as the pace of the game picked up.

“We were rushing. I think we played like we were down,” she said, “and I called a timeout and I told them, ‘Calm down.’ Just to calm down and do what we’ve been doing every quarter which is to run our offense, take care of the ball … and we got some easy layups just because we were patient.”

After a rough first half with only 12 points the first 15:59, Gilmore gave the Magic a 14-13 halftime lead with a 17-foot buzzer beater.

Mercy’s Mary Ella Marion, coaching in her 30th rivalry game against IND, hoped Gilmore’s shot would spark some Magic momentum in the second half, but the team went even colder.

“We can’t have a dry spell of a whole quarter into the next quarter,” Marion said. “I don’t know whether it was 10, 11 or 12 minutes that we didn’t have a bucket. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing, at the varsity level, you’ve got to be able to score. You can’t have those long droughts.”

The Magic (10-8), playing with three freshmen on the court almost the entire game, struggled inside and out. Marion said they worked and got a lot of the shots they wanted inside, but they missed a lot of layups. Their strongest outside shooters didn’t have a good night either although freshman guards Panageotou and Liszt each hit a 3-pointer.

In the fourth quarter, Mercy scored 15 points — one more than the first three quarters combined.

For the Penguins, the victory snapped a six-game regular-season losing skid. Even though their overall record is 3-18, winning The Game makes the season a success.

“We had a rough season, a lot of changes that happened,” Smith said of coaching and player turnover, “but I think this game is definitely a confidence boost for us to go into these next two games and into playoffs with a better outlook on the teams and how we play as a team.”

THE GAME

AT TOWSON UNIVERSITY

INSTITUTE OF NOTRE DAME 36, MERCY 29

Mercy — Lauren Panageotou 3, McKenna Carroll 9, Olivia Liszt 7, Taylor Gilmore 8, Annabelle Hafner 2. Totals: 10 7-11 29.

IND — Cydney Curtis 7, Niyona Smith 11, Grace Taylor 8, Sydney Paschall 2, Brandi Swinton 8. Totals: 11 14-18 36.

Mercy 8 6 0 15 — 29

IND    9  4  7 16 — 36