Fourth-ranked Mount St. Joseph demonstrated the value of team chemistry yesterday, using the return of senior catalyst Keon Lattimore to upset No. 1 Archbishop Spalding, 66-55, in Irvington.
The Gaels were already off to a fast start without Lattimore, and now they're even better, improving to 6-0 overall and 2-0 in the combined Baltimore Catholic League/Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference. The visiting Cavaliers slipped to 6-1, 2-1.
Lattimore, headed to the University of Maryland on a football scholarship, recently reversed his decision to sit out his final high school basketball season to train for football. In his second game back with the team yesterday, he finished with 19 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks and provided a steadying influence all afternoon. His final basket with 1:15 left gave the Gaels a 60-54 lead.
"Bringing double doubles in a big game, that's perfect, man," said senior guard Kyle O'Connor, when asked whether Lattimore's return lifted team chemistry.
O'Connor and 6-foot-7 junior Will Thomas seemed to feed off Lattimore's presence. O'Connor hit five three-pointers in scoring a game-high 20 points, and Thomas dominated the paint in producing 13 points and 14 rebounds.
Sitting out the start of the season, Lattimore did a lot of soul searching.
"You just don't know, man, the time I've had off, I was just thinking if I didn't play this year and finish what I started last year, it just wouldn't be right," said Lattimore, a second-team BCL choice last season.
"I knew I owed the team and it would mean a lot to me if I would come back, just for reasons like this today, knocking off the No. 1 team. It's a great feeling to be back."
After taking a 9-7 lead on a three-pointer by Lattimore with 3:45 left in the first quarter, the Gaels didn't trail. They built the advantage to 19-11 after the first period and 33-23 at the half.
Spalding's 7-footer, Will Bowers, got into early foul trouble and sat most of the first half with three fouls. Bowers scored eight of his 12 points in the third quarter, despite picking up foul No. 4. He helped pull the Cavaliers to within 35-31, the first of five times in the second half they would close to within that margin.
But to start the final quarter, Thomas drew a foul as he threw down the second of his three two-handed dunks. He converted on the three-point play to give the Gaels a 49-35 lead. Bowers then left the game less than a minute later when he was called for his fifth foul.
But Spalding didn't quit behind Jesse Brooks, who scored eight of his team-high 16 points in the final quarter. He scored his last basket off a steal to cut the Gaels' lead to 58-54.
Lattimore's subsequent basket and two free throws by O'Connor iced the game at 62-54 with 1:03 left. Thomas' final dunk, coming off a pass from O'Connor with 30 seconds left, served as the exclamation point.
"Keon is a competitor, great athlete, very unselfish player and great passer and is definitely one of the key players for them," said Spalding coach Mike Glick. "Mount St. Joe has an excellent ballclub."