Darryl Morsell wanted to dance. After Mount St. Joseph High’s victory in the MIAA A Conference basketball championship game Sunday evening, the Gael senior broke out some moves with his teammates before receiving the championship plaque. 

The wait is over for the No. 3 Gaels, who defeated fifth-ranked Mount Carmel, 65-54, at Harford Community College’s APG Federal Credit Union Arena. Junior Jalen Smith had 28 points and 13 rebounds for Mount St. Joseph (32-3 overall). 

The Irvington school out-manuevered the Cougars over the final eight minutes, completing a perfect run (18-0) through the area’s toughest league. It’s the Gaels’ first league title since 2014, and fifth overall.

A year ago, the Gaels were dominated in the second half by St. Frances Academy in the final at UMBC. 

“It was quiet. It was like dead, nobody was talking,” Morsell said of the Gaels’ locker room after the 2016 title game loss. “We were reminiscing about the whole season because we lost and it was worthless, but this year was different.”

It was different for the west Baltimore powerhouse, thanks to the senior play of Morsell and Nigel Jackson. Morsell, who’s committed to the University of Maryland, posted a double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds. Jackson, a Wagner commit, provided four rebounds and a third quarter blocked shot, leading to a Smith score.

Smith, who was named the Baltimore Catholic League’s Defensive and overall Player of the Year Monday, showed why major Division I programs like Maryland and reigning national champ Villanova have made him their top recruiting priority. The wiry 6-foot-9 forward dominated on both ends of the court, scoring 15 straight points in the second half and finished with three blocks. 

“He’s pretty darn good,” said Mount St. Joseph coach Pat Clatchey. 

Arguably Smith’s biggest play came early in the fourth, chasing down a loose ball that Mount Carmel seemingly had a beat on in the corner. The ball went out of bounds and was initially ruled off of Smith, but was reversed.

“He’s a passionate guy. He wanted to win, we all wanted to win. That was a big-time play,” said Morsell.

“It was a big momentum changer,” said Smith. “Once I did it, everybody got hyped and we knew we needed to buckle down and try to win this game.”

After beating the Cougars (25-9) twice in the regular season, Mount St. Joseph got a spirited effort from the Old Eastern Avenue school in the third match Sunday. Trailing 32-25 at halftime, Mount Carmel rallied to claim a 39-36 lead in the third quarter, after Jordan Jones finished a pass from senior Terry Nolan.

Smith answered for Mount St. Joseph with a 3-pointer, followed with two free throws for 41-39 lead with 2 minutes, 26 seconds left in the third quarter. Jackson, who will play for Wagner next season, denied a Cougar shot and junior point guard Kendall McMillan found Smith for a basket.

The Gaels never trailed again, but the Cougars didn’t go away. Mount Carmel got a 3-pointer from Christian Evans to pull to 45-44 entering the fourth. 

“We told them this is it — eight minutes,” Clatchey said. “Don’t come up short, no regrets, play for each other, got to defend, got to rebound, got to take care of the basketball and got to take good shots. It comes down to the same stuff, whether it’s a championship game or just a regular game. It’s basketball and you’ve got to play.”

The Gaels made the plays as Smith got an offensive board and followed with a dunk to complete his 15-point run. Sophomore guard James Bishop (11 points) came out with a loose ball and scored uncontested. Morsell dropped two free throws for a 53-44 lead after a Smith denial on the other end.

Mount Carmel, which lost to Calvert Hall College in the 2015 final, was unable to respond. Jones, a junior forward, had 19 points for the Cougars while Tennessee-Chattonooga recruit Nolan finished with 17 points and five assists.

Mount Carmel second-year coach Hakim Hibbert said he was proud of his team’s effort.

“The guys played hard, but came up a little short. Tonight was a step in the right direction for the program,” said Hibbert. “We’ve played a long season and guys still have to be poised to make plays down the stretch.”

With one bad memory erased, Mount St. Joseph will try to atone for its other 2016 postseason miss in the Baltimore Catholic League Tournament, starting Thursday. The Gaels lost at the buzzer in the final to John Carroll School last year.

“We’re on a nice little winning streak,” said Morsell. “Right now, we’re playing together and playing some good basketball.”

MIAA A Conference basketball championship

at Harford Community College

No. 3 Mount St. Joseph 65, No. 5 Mount Carmel 54

Mount Carmel – Nolan 17, Jones 19, Evans 8, Miller 4, Watson 4, Thomas 2. Totals 20 11-14 54.

Mount St. Joseph – Smith 28, Morsell 17, Bishop 11, Jackson 3, Myers 2, Robinson 2, McDonald 2. Totals 23 17-23 65.

Mount Carmel 14 11 19 10 – 54

Mount St. Joseph 15 17 13 20 – 65