R.J. Williams knew the St. Frances Academy boys’ basketball team’s hopes against Digital Harbor Friday evening largely rested on his shoulders. Like he’s done often during his four seasons as point guard, Williams answered the challenge.
Williams and No. 2 St. Frances disposed of No. 5 Digital Harbor, 72-50, at the inaugural Under Armour Invitational on the Panthers’ home court in east Baltimore. Rutgers University-bound center Greg Lewis posted a game-high 19 points and 17 rebounds for the Panthers (3-0 overall).
Three other Panthers hit double figures with Williams and Eddie Tarver adding 16 points, and Shakir Brown finishing with 13. Dajuan Cook led Digital Harbor (1-1) with 13 points.
The Panthers led by as many as 24 points Friday, turning the season’s first matchup of Top 5 squads into a decisive knockout. St. Frances coach Mark Karcher said his team established a presence early.
“We came out with a lot of aggression, RJ kind of dictated what we wanted,” said Karcher. “We dominated the boards, we had a rack of turnovers which I didn’t like, but we made up for it.”
“We had to take their heart early from them,” said Williams, who had eight assists. “I told the team we can’t have anybody come into our house and beat us.”
Williams was the protector of St. Frances’ house. In a virtuoso effort, Williams ran the Panthers’ offense in half court or transition, brushing aside Digital Harbor pressure.
The Rams wanted their backcourt of Kevin Smith and Dajuan Cook, who played with Williams for part of last season before transferring to Digital, to neutralized Williams. Williams was excited about the challenge.
“I played against them all summer,” said Williams. “When you’re on the court, it’s business.”
The Panthers went on a 10-0 run in the first quarter, started by the second of Lewis’ six blocked shots. Williams finished with a pass to Tarver for a three-point play, and Williams later added a three-pointer. It was 22-7 after the first quarter.
With Lewis dominating the paint and Tarver (seven rebounds) and Brown (six rebounds) scoring from the outside, St. Frances upped its margin to 38-22 at halftime. Tarver fed Lewis inside for an easy bucket, giving the Panthers their largest advantage, 50-26, midway through the third.
“We all have different roles. Eddie stepped up, Shakir stepped up and made some clutch plays,” said Williams. “Our main focus is Greg. He’s the biggest guy in the city.”
But Williams is on the short list of players in the area who are irreplaceable on their team. With two Baltimore Catholic League and MIAA A Conference championships to his credit, Williams, 5-foot-9, is carving a place alongside the likes of Karcher, a three-time BCL Player of the Year in the 1990s, and current University of Maryland star Sean Mosley, in program lore.
“You can’t take him out of the game,” said Digital Harbor coach Johnny Grimes. “He’s in complete control of the offense. The open shots, the dribble-drive and kick out, and he plays hard defense.”
“He makes a lot of things easy,” said Karcher.
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