For the second time in eight days Towson Catholic used its pressure defense to disrupt the Cardinal Gibbons offense, and last night it resulted in the championship of the 21st Catholic League Tournament.
The second-seeded Owls (22-11) used the inside scoring of Sharif Butler, the floor leadership of Sydney Johnson and the shot-blocking of James Burrell to topple the regular-season champion Crusaders 73-60 and take their first Catholic League tournament title since 1989 at Loyola College's Reitz Arena last night.
Last Sunday, the Owls had avenged an early-season loss to Gibbons (24-13) with an excellent defensive game that resulted in a 91-77 win at home. The confidence gained in that game was evident from the outset last night, as the Owls defense hounded the Crusaders throughout.
"Last Sunday's game just let us know we could win this tournament," said Johnson, the tournament MVP. "Gibbons brings out the best in us, and we showed it tonight."
Butler, who finished with a game-high 26 points, took control of the game late in the first quarter, as Towson Catholic built its early lead. Burrell, who had five first-half blocks, made life miserable inside for Gibbons offensively. And it was Johnson who kept all the pieces together.
"Sharif and Silk [Burrell] are my MVPs," said Johnson. "They have that athletic ability that makes my job so much easier."
Richard Rhinehart, who along with Butler and Burrell was named to the all-tournament team, connected on nine of 12 foul shots in the final quarter for the Owls and finished with 19 points.
Sophomore Richard Dent led Gibbons with 20 points and Quintin Moody had 18. Moody and Mount St. Joseph's Donte Abron completed the all-tournament team, and Gibbons' Chucky Lee won the sportsmanship award.
Gibbons came out cold from the field, hitting three of 14 field goals in the first quarter.
Burrell put the Owls ahead to stay at 9-7 on a feed from Johnson with 2:40 left in the quarter.
The second quarter belonged to Butler, who scored 11 of his team's 17, including the first seven of the quarter, when the Owls built a 20-10 lead. More importantly, Butler drew the third personal foul on Lee with 4:32 left in the half.
Butler scored the final four Owls points before halftime to provide a 30-18 lead at halftime .
In the third quarter, Gibbons coach Ray Mullis elected to keep Lee on the bench until the Owls had increased their lead to 36-22. But Lee lasted only 28 seconds before picking up his fourth personal, and the Owls bunched five points into the next minute, as the lead ballooned to 43-26 after Burrell made a steal and feed to Rhinehart for the easy basket.
Gibbons never got closer than 13 points after that.
"It's been a team effort for us all year," said Owls coach Mike Daniel. "I preached consistency at the beginning of the season, and consistency is what has done it for us. The kids were sky high after that win last Sunday and they played very well."