As Mercy's BJ Banjo stood at the free-throw line last night with "The Game" in her hands and 21 seconds left, she tried not to think about the 3,130 screaming fans at the Towson Center.
Banjo narrowed her focus to the lane and nailed both free throws. She added two with 8.8 seconds to go to seal the No. 5 Magic's 57-51 girls basketball win over No. 2 Institute of Notre Dame.
"You've got to tune everybody out. It's got to be just you and that foul line," said the senior guard, who finished with 24 points. "You've got to think you're in the gym by yourself with nobody around you, and that's what I tried to do."
Last night, however, Banjo and her teammates were surrounded by the hoopla of "The Game," the traditional 36th annual contest between Mercy and IND that draws thousands to the Towson Center.
That didn't stop the Magic from breaking out to a 9-0 lead, fighting off the Indians when they pulled ahead in the third quarter and finishing off the victory with some big three-point shots and Banjo's free throws.
The Magic carried a 39-38 lead into the fourth quarter, but IND quickly pulled ahead on two three-pointers and an 18-footer by Jayme Otto. Otto's baseline shot with 4:26 left gave the Indians a 46-41 lead, but that was just the beginning of the three-point shooting contest.
Mercy's Colette Hailey hit the next one and the Banjo nailed two to put the Magic on top for good at 50-46.
"Me and BJ knew we had to hit them," said Hailey, who hit three three-pointers for the game and finished with 15 points. "Us hitting threes got the fans going and it got us all pumped, and the next thing you know, me and BJ couldn't miss."
Those last few three pointers weren't launched from the arc - more like a foot or two behind it.
"They just got deeper and deeper with their threes, and they just got hot," said IND coach Herb Hoelter.
It didn't help the Indians, who had won eight of their past nine game, to lose point guard Katie Hoelter to an apparent sprained right ankle with 6:06 left. Colby Lee (eight points) and Chandrea Jones (19 points) both fouled out in the fourth quarter.
The Magic also owes its victory to a tighter zone in the second half, which limited Jones to just two rebounds (after 11 in the first half) and kept the rest of the Indians from getting second chances.
"I am so proud of them," said Mercy coach Mary Ella Marion, whose team had gone 2-3 since beating the Indians on Jan. 27.
The victory was the sixth straight for the Magic in "The Game" and gives Mercy a 25-11 lead in the series.
With the defeat, the Indians (15-9, 9-7 Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference) lost an opening-round bye and will open tournament play against visiting Mount de Sales at 4 p.m. Monday.
The Magic (15-9, 9-7) will play host to Notre Dame Prep also at 4 p.m. Monday.