A zone press called "TC Heat" has paid dividends most of the season for Towson Catholic.
Yesterday, it was incinerating. The No. 8 Owls turned up the heat in the second half and outscored No. 7-ranked and Catholic League champion Cardinal Gibbons 30-1 in a seven-minute spurt of defensive brilliance that led to a 91-77 Towson Catholic victory at home.
This was the same Towson Catholic team that had been upset Friday at St. Frances to drop out of a tie for second place in the league. Senior point guard Sydney Johnson said that the loss gave a lot of the motivation to the Owls (18-11, 10-4).
"This is a game we really wanted," Johnson, who scored 27 points and led the zone press with his quick hands. "We needed this game to send a message that TC can still play. And when we play focused we can play with anybody. Sometimes we're flat like we were Friday and we get burned, but today we came out focused."
For Gibbons (21-12), it was only the second loss in 14 Catholic League starts. With the Crusaders having clinched the regular season title on Friday, coach Ray Mullis said he suspected he might have trouble motivating his team for this contest. "We told them how important it was to keep our edge going into the Catholic League tournament," Mullis said. "But we had too many unforced errors. We got out of control and tried to go too fast."
It looked like it would be another in a string of excellent defensive efforts by the Crusaders when Gibbons rallied from a 30-21 deficit midway in the second quarter to move in front, 39-37, at halftime. That lead built to 52-45 on a drive by Quintin Moody with 3:15 to play in the third quarter.
Then the Owls turned up the heat, scoring the final 14 points of the third quarter to take a 59-52 lead as Johnson and Sharif Butler, who finished with a game-high 34 points, seemed to have their hands everywhere.
"We let them do to us what we've been doing to people defensively all year," Mullis said.
The Owls began the fourth quarter by scoring the first eight points, completing a 22-0 run, as Johnson, Butler, James Burrell and Jason Fink all made steals in the first two minutes to increase the lead to 67-52.
That lead ballooned to 75-53 midway in the quarter, and Gibbons went eight minutes without a field goal until Moody (26 points) hit a follow-up shot with 3:15 left.
"When we apply that press the right way, it works for us," said Johnson, who pointed out that the Owls remembered that the press had brought them back in the closing minutes of the first meeting with Gibbons (a 75-68 Owls loss). "We were just getting in the passing lanes. We call it TC Heat, and that's what we got."
Both teams will start the Catholic League tournament at home on Friday, and the semifinal doubleheader and championship game will be played at Loyola College on Saturday and Sunday nights.
"That's when we'll see what we're made of," said Mullis, whose Crusaders are the defending tournament champions.
Elsewhere in the Catholic League, Kenny Gardner's 18 points led host St. Maria Goretti (12-13, 5-9) to a 58-43 upset over No. 6 Loyola (20-9, 10-4).
Jeremy Baker's 21 points led No. 16 Calvert Hall (14-10, 8-6) to a 76-64 victory over visiting Mount St. Joseph (5-9, 9-18). Jeff Servidio scored 15 for the Gaels.
Phil Dixon scored 20 to lead host St. Frances (9-12, 7-7) to a 83-51 win over Archbishop Curley (6-19, 0-14).