After a rough start to the season, things are smoothing out nicely for John Carroll’s girls basketball team.

Led by MVP Pieper McCue’s 14-point effort, the Patriots pulled away in the second half to down Harford County neighbor Fallston, 40-27, on Friday afternoon in the championship game of the Johnny Mack Division of the All About the Girls Holiday Hoops tourney at Concordia Prep in Towson.

McCue, a 5-foot-10 freshman forward, and sophomore guard Grace Marchetti did most of the scoring for the Patriots, who won their third straight after starting the 2022-23 campaign 0-4.

They were helped by another sophomore, Vivian Carrico, whose three-pointer with four seconds left in the second quarter was a key toward building momentum for a second half in which John Carroll would outscore the Cougars, 23-7.

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The Patriots’ well-structured zone defense not only helped to negate Fallston’s size advantage, it was also a factor in preventing spot-up shooter Lindsey Detloff from duplicating an eight-point first half that had a lot to do with the Cougars building a 20-17 halftime cushion.

”Once they went to a zone we couldn’t get our spacing and they could shade to our shooter before she could get her feet set,” Fallston coach Johnny Woods said. “We just weren’t prepared to execute. It was a great coaching move (by John Carroll coach Holly Ismail).”

Freshman forward Pieper McCue was named the MVP of the Johnny Mack Division of the All About The Girls Holiday Hoops tournament on Friday afternoon. (Nelson Coffin)

John Carroll drew even with Fallston midway through the third quarter on two Carrico free throws and took the lead for good when she nailed two more from the charity stripe before feeding Marchetti for a layup on a fastbreak.

”Viv is a great all-around player,” Ismail said. “She didn’t start tonight, but she really gave us a spark (off the bench).”

After McCue finished back-to-back drives, assisted by Carrico, the lead was a solid 30-22, soon to be shrunk by Detleff’s only three-ball of the second half.

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A nifty baseline drive by McCue and a triple by junior Naimah Saccoh stretched the margin to double digits, at 35-25, early in the final period, making a Cougar comeback unlikely.

Ismail said that her team’s early problems called for a new strategy.

”We were struggling as a team,” she said. “Our help (defense) wasn’t quite there, so we went to a zone to see what would happen.”

What happened was that the Patriots flourished on the defensive end and the offense also came to life, withMcCue taking postgame MVP bows.

“Pieper has been awesome to work with this year,” Ismail said. “She brings energy and effort all the time. Today was pretty typical of what she does.”

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McCue appeared to be ready for the spotlight, despite her rookie status.

”I feel like I don’t want to just play, I want to score points to help us win,” she said. “We put in a lot of really hard work and we really wanted it. Fallston was really physical and they made me work harder.”

JOHNNY MACK DIVISION ALL ABOUT THE GIRLS HOLIDAY HOOPS

(AT CONCORDIA PREP)

JOHN CARROLL 40, FALLSTON 27

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Fallston 9 11 5 2 — 27

John Carroll 8 9 13 10 — 40

Fallston-Lindsey Dettlof 11, Ayla Galloway 8, Jadin Woods 3, Sara Drzik 2, Maddy Burns 2, Brooke Bolesta 1. Totals-9 6-8 27.

John Carroll-Pieper McCue 14, Grace Marchetti 13, Vivian Carrico 8, Naimah Saccoh 3, Anna Westervelt 1, Alyssa Hughes 1. Totals-14 9-16 40.

John Carroll won the Johnny Mack Division of the All About The Girls Holiday Hoops tournament Friday afternoon by topping Fallston, 40-27, at Concordia Prep. (Nelson Coffin)