Featuring a young back-court which gained experience and confidence throughout the 2011-12 basketball season, No. 6 John Carroll overcame a pair of regular season losses to No. 4 Mount St. Joseph, rising up to stop the Gaels, 44-41, in the MIAA A Conference Championship Game, Sunday at UMBC.
In winning its second MIAA A crown, John Carroll (26-6 overall), which defeated St. Frances Academy in last year’s title game, is the fourth consecutive team to go back-to-back, joining St. Frances (2008-09 and 2009-10), Towson Catholic (2006-07 and 2007-08) and St. Joe (2004-05 and 2005-06).
The Patriots nursed a narrow lead much of the game and closed out the win by sinking 8-of-10 free throws in the fourth quarter.
Patriot senior star Jared Jones scored a game-high 17 points, including 11 in the second half.
“From the beginning of the year, we decided we were going to win another championship. Our back-court had disappeared to college and nobody thought we had a chance to make it,” said Jones. “Last year was a little bit easier with two senior back courts. I was in there and we were a dominant team. This year was harder with young guards and less experience. It was a great year.”
John Carroll led 22-16 at the half, but St. Joe (23-6) scored seven of the first nine points of the third quarter to pull within one. Phil Lawrence capped the burst with a steal and a coast-to-coast drive for a rim rattling one-handed jam. John Carroll responded with an 8-3 run to go back on top, but the Gaels got a basket from Kameron Williams and a long three, at the third quarter buzzer, from Charlie Jones to pull within one, 33-32, as the fourth quarter got underway.
Lawrence then scored in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter to put St. Joe in front, 34-33. It was the Gaels’ first lead since early in the first quarter. It was also their last.
Two free throws from Rodney Elliott pushed JC back in front, igniting a 7-0 run which gave the Patriots a 39-33 lead. In that flurry, junior Mike Owona took an inside feed and rose for a monster two-handed jam.
Williams, St. Joe’s leading scorer, only had one field goal in the contest and finished with just five points. He did keep the Gaels alive, however, with three free throws after getting fouled on a shot from beyond the arc. That made it 39-36, but St. Joe could get not closer.
Kyle Doran and Booth each hit three three-pointers for St. Joe to finish with nine points each. That matched Lawrence’s nine points as the three shared team-high scoring honors. Mike Owona finished with eight for John Carroll and Justin Jenifer had seven for the Patriots.
John Carroll head coach Tony Martin indicated that his team was motivated by its earlier losses to St. Joe and they worked hard to change the result.
“I thought our kids came in very focused. We had an outstanding practice yesterday, a really good film session, and our kids believe they should have won the last one,” said Martin. “It’s a great rivalry these last couple of years.”
The rivalry may have at least one more renewal this season, as the Patriots and Gaels will enter next week’s (Feb. 24-25-26) Baltimore Catholic League Tournament at Stevenson University as the favorites to reach the finals. Both squads also have the inside track to receive one of the two guaranteed bids the BCL will receive to the Alhambra Catholic Invitational Tournament in March.