Every time — and it happened more often than one might have expected — Loyola Blakefield fought its way to within three points of Mount St. Joseph on Saturday afternoon on the Dons’ Jerry Savage Court in Towson, the Gaels (4-0) refused to give in any further.
They made clutch play after clutch play to hold off the hosts, 64-59, in the MIAA A Conference/Baltimore Catholic League basketball opener for both schools.
”It shows that we’re resilient,” said Mount St. Joe senior guard Ace Valentine, who led all scorers with 23 points. “We didn’t want to give up the lead. We had to stay composed, and we knew Loyola would come back.”
The UMBC commit made sure that Loyola never got closer than it did, finishing a twisting layup after Loyola senior guard Ryder Drew swished a three-pointer midway through the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to 53-50.
Valentine was at it again moments later, knocking down a baseline triple after Loyola sophomore Quron Elliott’s free throws once again sliced the margin to three points before the Gaels star restored order at 58-52. A stick-back by senior Brashawn Galloway gave the Gaels some more breathing room shortly thereafter, with junior Tyonne Farrell finishing a fast-break to boost the visitors’ advantage to 62-53 with just under a minute left in regulation.
Nevertheless, the Dons (2-1) kept probing and were able to make the final score even more respectable on a Drew three-ball and two free throws by and a layup by junior J’Lin Brown, despite a pair of successful strokes from the stripe by Valentine.
To their credit, the Gaels never trailed after Valentine — who else? — gave them the lead in the middle of the opening period on a put-back, although Brown’s coast-to-coast maneuver pulled Loyola within a point late in the stanza.
The relentless Valentine, though, buried a three and added a free throw to give Mount S. Joe a 14-9 advantage heading into the second quarter.
When Drew, assisted by Brown, drained a baseline jumper as time wound down prior to the intermission, it was Valentine who had the final word by sinking a walk-off three to give the Gaels a 31-24 halftime cushion.
Just when it looked like Mount St. Joe was on the threshold of blowing the game open on a stick-back by senior Amani Hansberry to build a 43-31 lead in the third quarter, Loyola dug in and fought back on buckets by sophomores Marlon Williams and Jordan Hammond before Drew’s drive closed the period on a high note for the home team.
”I’m more encouraged than discouraged,” Loyola coach Josh Davalli said. “They’ve been scoring in the upper 70s and low 80s, so I’m pleased with our team defense today. We played very well.”
Even so, it was tough sledding for the Dons when the gap between the teams narrowed.
”They have a lot of really good players, who can answer from the perimeter and the post,” Davalli added. “But I’m really proud of our group.”
If not having the injured Austin Abrams in the starting lineup slowed down the Gaels a bit, they were buoyed by a strong effort from his reserves, Mount. St. Joe Pat Clatchey said.
“Our bench was really good,” he said. “And if we had shot a little bit better from the foul line, the score could have been different. But Loyola is really good. Drew, Ellison and Brown are good and Loyola is very well coached. Any time I can get a road win in this league, I’ll take it.”
MOUNT ST. JOSEPH 64, LOYOLA BLAKEFIELD 59
MSJ 14 17 12 21 — 64
LB 9 15 15 20 — 59
MSJ-Ace Valentine 23, Tyonne Farrell 14, Amani Hansberry 11, Brashawn Galloway 10, Sean Clark 6. 22 10-20 64
LB-J’Lin Brown 15, Ryder Drew 15, Mason Ellison 11, Jordan Hammond 8, Quron Elliott 4, Marlon Williams 3, Sam Navarre 2, Joe Nottingham 1. 15 6-12 59