St. Frances' Dwayne Morgan soared above a pack of defenders and tipped in the winning basket in the final seconds against No. 6 John Carroll in an early-season showdown between the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference powers.
The play was a metaphor for how high the second-ranked Panthers are flying to start this season. Just two days after beating Aquille Carr and a talented Princeton Day Academy, St. Frances overcame an early deficit to end an eight-game losing streak against the Patriots with the 40-39 victory and improved to 8-0 this season.
The grind does not get easier for St. Frances, which will play Travis High of Richmond, Texas, in the UA I-95 Invitational at Loyola University on Friday. Travis has two of the nation's top recruits in twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison, both of whom signed with Kentucky over Maryland.
"I think I have some big-time basketball players," St. Frances coach Nicholas Myles said. "I have a great group of seniors who have been loyal to the program and this is what they asked me for in the summertime. We're prepared."
Morgan, a highly recruited 6-foot-8 forward, led St. Frances with 14 points. Kimbal MacKenzie scored all 14 of his points in the first half for John Carroll, and Rodney Elliott added 10.
John Carroll (7-3 overall, 1-2 MIAA) went into the half with a 21-20 lead in a game that was often played at a frantic pace. St. Frances adjusted to the Patriots' zone defense by getting out in transition quicker, and the move began to pay off.
The Panthers continued to attack, and a layup by Morgan gave them their first lead, 29-28, with 4:11 left in the third quarter. John Carroll was unfazed and stayed with the Panthers for the rest of the quarter, A 3-pointer by Jordan Martin tied the game at 33 at the end of the third quarter.
Morgan's free throw gave St. Frances a 37-34 lead with 6:08 left in the game. However, Mike Owona's jumper and a 3-pointer by Elliott helped John Carroll regain the lead, 39-37, with 2:07 remaining.
St. Frances answered on a free throw by Tevon Saddler and a tip-in by Morgan and the Panthers led 40-39 with just 9.8 seconds left. Elliott missed a long 3-pointer in the closing seconds and the Panthers prevailed.
"I just positioned myself to get the offensive rebound," Morgan said. "I saw the ball come off and I got the spot I needed to. If we want to be the best, we have to go out and play hard. Defense won the game."
MacKenzie scored the game's opening six points and the Patriots led 8-3 at the end of the first quarter. John Carroll kept St. Frances off balance by forcing long jumpers.
"John Carroll has been playing us tough and they came in here and played a great game," Myles said. "For our kids to fight through it and pull it off in the end was quite phenomenal."
After the Panthers made the adjustments, a putback by White cut the margin to 18-16 with three minutes left in the quarter. However, a pair of free throws by Elliott and a 3-pointer by MacKenzie allowed John Carroll retain a one-point lead at the break.
No. 2 St. Frances 40, No. 6 John Carroll 39
JC –MacKenzie 14, Elliott 10, Martin 5, Tertsea 4, M. Owona 2, Keyser 2.
Totals: 13 6-10 39.
SF – Morgan 14, White 7, Wells 6, Saddler 5, Richards 4, Lee, 4.
Totals: 15 8-17 40
Half: JC, 21-20