FREDERICK -- The strategy for the title game of the St. John's at Prospect Hall Pre-Christmas Tournament between the host Vikings and No. 7 St. Frances seemed obvious.
St. Frances, the taller team, ran the court and scored on the transition. St. John's countered with its stronger outside game.
What eventually made the difference, however, was St. Frances' Devin Gray.
Gray, a senior center, and tournament's most valuable player, dominated the inside, scoring 25 points and grabbing 15 rebounds, as St. Frances won, 63-53, for the tournament crown.
"We keep playing like this and we should have some big wins in conference," said Gray, who scored 47 in two tournament games. "Coach [William Wells] always tells us to hit the boards and get the garbage baskets. I was able to get good postion, so that came easy for me."
Gray, who is being recruited by Minnesota, Maryland and Wake Forest among others, made it look easy as well, scoring 10 after offensive rebounds.
"[St. Frances'] inside game made our big guys look bad," said St. John's coach Larry Cullinane. "They had a couple of big stick-backs off foul shots. Also their big kids ran the ball so well that it created a big problem for us defensively."
Adding to the Vikings' troubles was the Panthers' Eric Carroll. The forward scored 20, 14 in the second half, and hit six of eight foul shots down the stretch.
That was a big help, because, without injured point guard Antoine Wingo, the St. Frances transition game didn't work easily. Hurt by numerous first-half turnovers and fouls, the Panthers scored seven in the first quarter (all by Gray) and led 21-17 at the half.
But after St. John's (8-4) tied the score at 21 early in the third quarter, St. Frances (3-2) took off.
"We decided to up the tempo a bit," said Cullinane. "Unfortunately, that allowed their offense to really get going."
Carroll's 10-footer and Gray's slam dunk started the Panthers on a 13-2 run that gave them a 34-23 lead with 2 minutes, 33 seconds left in the quarter.
Moreover, it gave them control of the game.
"We stayed together, played together and were able to stay with it and beat them inside," said St. Frances coach William Wells, who put his team in a stall once it gained a comfortable lead. "My theory is if you've got a 10- or 12-point lead, you don't need to score anymore."
St. Frances employed its slow-down offense midway in the fourth quarter. St, John's was down by as much as 21 before closing to within 10 on an Eric Henry (22 points) three-pointer at the closing buzzer.
Cullinane said the reason for the outcome was simple. "They played better than us," he said. "They just flat beat us."
In the consolation game, Derrick Bellamy scored 18, as Ballou of Washington defeated Calvert Hall, 77-55.
@Championship game St. Frances 63, St. John's 53 ST. FRANCES -- Carroll 20, Gray 24, Smith 11, Lee 4, Woodson 4. Totals: 25 13-21 63.
ST. JOHN'S -- Henry 22, Tosic 5, Lees 6, Krivokopic 2, Claggett 10, Byrne 8. Totals: 24 2-7 53.
St. Frances 7 14 19 23 -- 63
John's 8 9 15 21 -- 53
Consolation game Ballou 77, Calvert Hall 55 BALLOU -- Thomas 9, Bellamy 18, Jackson 5, Chewning 2, Pearson 4, Dozier 10, Langford 6, Price 13, Mahdi 8, Rhames 2. Totals: 33 5-15 77.
CALVERT HALL -- George 2, Brown 7, Metrinko 4, Larkin 4, Verch 3, Wilson 2, Baker 6, Trintis 10, Derus 8, Alexander 9. Totals: 17 18-24 55.
Ballou 17 19 19 22 -- 77
Calvert Hall 11 18 6 20 -- 55