Southern High wanted to send a message to the national pollsters last night against St. Anthony's in the Charm City Classic, but it was St. Anthony's All-American Roderick Rhodes who got his point across.
Rhodes, a 6-foot-7 senior, showed why some consider him the best player in the country as he scored 21 points and grabbed six rebounds leading St. Anthony's to a 73-64 victory before 4,500 at the Towson Center.
St. Anthony's used an aggressive defense and hot shooting on offense to turn back the Bulldogs' attempt to grab the attention of the national pollsters with an upset.
St. Anthony's entered last night's game ranked No. 2 by the Associated Press and No. 3 by USA Today. Southern is ranked No. 24 by the AP but not ranked by USA Today.
"We came here very nervous because we knew Southern was a NTC very good team," said Rhodes. "We just wanted to come in play relaxed, get a win and get ready for Dunbar [tonight at 9]. We never looked ahead to Dunbar because knew Southen was a good team and could upset us."
Rhodes led a front line that accounted for 57 points. Junior Rushown McLeod scored 17 and had seven rebounds and junior Jalil Roberts had 19 points and seven rebounds. The three were a combined 19 of 28 from the field. All totaled St. Anthony's hit 26 of 43 field goals.
"They executed well on offense and they god good close shots," said Southern coach Meredith Smith. Southern didn't have an answer for the versatile Rhodes, who has signed with Kentucky. Rhodes either powered his way to the basket over 6-5 Derrick Watkins or used his quickness to get around 6-8 Abdul Brown.
On offense the Bulldogs turned in their poorest performance of the season. They hit just 23 of 63 shots.
"I thought our defense wasn't really that bad but we didn't execute on the offensive end of the floor," said Smith. "You can't be a good team if you don't execute."
Senior guard Kwame Evans led Southern with 20 points. Sophomore point guard Damon Cason had 16 but made just five of 17 field goals. Senior forward Derrick Watkins finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
"I think it was execution," said Evans. "We didn't have any leadership from our seniors. Basically our offense didn't execute."
The Bulldogs struggled through the firs half hitting just 12 of 31 field goals while St. Anthony's hit 12 of 22 but Southern trailed just 29-28.
St. Anthony's pulled away in the third quarter with a 8-0 run to turn a 32-32 tie into a 40-32 lead. Southern got within 43-38 with 1:25 left but St. Anthony's ran off the final seven points of the quarter to push its lead 50-38. Southern never got closer than eight in the final quarter.
"We weren't as aggressive on defense as we would be normally," Friars coach Bob Hurley said of his team's first half performance. "We wanted to come out in the second half and attack them more, force them to shoot quicker and gang rebound."
St. Anthony's gets a shot at the nation's No. 1 team tonight when they meet Dunbar at 9 p.m.
Tonight at 7, Southern gets another chance to make its point to the national pollsters when they take on St. Raymond's, the nation's No. 12 team according to USA Today. St. Raymond's lost to Dunbar 93-82 last night.