After its victory over nationally-ranked St. Benedict’s in the Shirts vs. Skins Classic Saturday evening, Mount St. Joseph basketball team was asked about playing against several foreign players on the New Jersey powerhouse.

“We have a lot of guys from all over Baltimore County,” joked Gaels coach Pat Clatchey. The area’s top-ranked team from Baltimore City posted a 65-59 decision over the Gray Bees in the finale of the two-day event at St. Frances Academy’s Phelps Gym.  

No. 8 St. Frances dropped a 70-66 decision to New York’s Archbishop Stepinac. Alan Griffin posted a double-double with 25 points and 10 rebounds for Stepinac (1-0).

Jordan Goodwin finished with 19 points for St. Frances, which went the final 3 minutes, 28 seconds without a field goal. The Panthers, who won the MIAA A Conference title last season, are 0-2 for the first time in years.

St. Frances coach Nick Myles said the Panthers are adjusting without BCL co-Player of the Year Daquan Bracey (now a freshman at Louisiana Tech) and Kurk Lee Jr. (Drexel).

“It’s early in the year. We’re going to play a tough schedule,” said Myles. “We’re playing them close, we just got to get over the hump.”

The East Chase Street school tied the game at 66 on Elijah Epps’ two free throws with 55.4 seconds left in regulation. Stepinac called timeout with 38.4 seconds to play.

Rajear Jones drove to the basket but his shot missed off the backboard. Xavier Wilson got the offensive rebound and powered a tough shot in off the glass as the 35-second shot clock expired, giving the suburban New York school the lead with 18.8 seconds left. 

Epps rushed the ball back downcourt, but his pass was intercepted Jorden Means, who fouled with 7.5 seconds remaining. Means converted one of two free throws, and got his hand on Goodwin’s 3-point attempt from the corner with 4.5 seconds left in regulation.

In a closely contested match (largest lead by either team 6), Stepinac led 61-57 in the fourth before back-to-back 3-pointers from Goodwin gave St. Frances the advantage. 

It would be last field goal for the Panthers, who shot nine of 32 in the second half. St. Frances lost to St. Benedict’s, 63-54, Friday evening. 

“We probably left 20, 30 points off the board. We missed too many layups,” said Myles. “Yesterday, it was free throws, today it was layups. They’re most easiest things in basketball.”

It was relatively easy in the second quarter for Mount St. Joseph, which put USA Today’s No. 17 team in a 18-point hole. The Gaels were able to deflect a Grey Bees second half rally to remain undefeated.

Junior forward/center Jalen Smith finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds for Mount St. Joseph (4-0), and University of Maryland commit Darryl Morsell added a double-double of 10 points and 12 rebounds. Noah Farrakhan led St. Benedict’s (0-1) with 18 points.

“I’m not sure if we could play any better than that,” said Clatchey about his team’s opening 16 minutes. “We moved the ball, we made shots.”

The Gaels dropped four 3-pointers in the second quarter, turning a 17-16 lead into a commanding 40-22 halftime advantage. The Irvington school shot a robust 53-percent (16-of-30) in the first half.

St. Joe cooled off in the second half (5-of-18) as St. Benedict’s sliced the deficit in half, 49-40, after three periods. The New Jersey Prep Class A state champion trailed just 49-44 after Najiir Hunter’s successful drive with 6:43 left in regulation.

James Bishop’ 4-point play gave Mount St. Joseph a respite, extending the lead to 53-44. The sophomore finished with 13 points, dropped a designed dagger from the elbow in front of the Gaels’ bench.

“That was a huge play. We were really struggling to score,” said Clatchey. “It was great execution, something we didn’t run the whole game.”

“I knew we needed the bucket,” said Bishop, one of three starting underclassmen. 

The Gaels didn’t get their next basket for nearly four minutes as Smith finished inside off a feed from Morsell, giving them a 60-49 lead with 1:55 left in regulation. St. Benedict’s got to 63-59 with 32.7 seconds to play, but Tyree Myers stopped Ebou Dibba on a drive, and Kendall McMillan converted two free throws for Mount St. Joseph with 19.9 seconds left.

“I knew the second half was going to a battle. They’re a big athletic team,” said Clatchey. “It was one of those type of games where we just kind of weathered the storm. We bent a little bit, but didn’t break.”

The Gaels started fast with a 9-2 first quarter advantage after a basket from Smith (18 points in first half). Mount St. Joseph sent the bigger Gray Bees reeling with a perimeter explosion in the second.

Nigel Jackson hit three 3-pointers, the latter putting Mount St. Joseph up 35-20. Smith, one of the country’s top juniors, got in the act with a trifecta and completed a press break with a dunk late in the first half for an 18-point advantage.

“We play our best when we all trust each other,” said Jackson, who’s committed to Wagner.

The Gaels are in a good place heading into a busy week, starting Monday with the MIAA A Conference opener against Gilman School. Wednesday, the Gaels start Baltimore Catholic League play at Loyola Blakefield, followed Friday with a MIAA A semifinal rematch at No. 4 Glenelg Country School. Saturday, the Gaels meet No. 2 Poly in the inaugural William Wells Challenge at UMBC.

“This is something that can carry us a long way. We can use it as a resource,” said Clatchey. “We talked all the time about not worrying about the opponent, it’s about who we are and what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Shirts vs. Skins Classic

at St. Frances Academy

No. 1 Mount St. Joseph 65, St. Benedict’s (N.J.) 59

Mount St. Joseph – Myers 2, Bishop 13, Morsell 10, Smith 24, Jackson 9, McMillan 3, Robinson 4. Totals 21 17-28 65.

St. Benedict’s – Farrakhan 18, Achiuwa 10, Sidibe 16, Hunter 13, Dibba 2. Totals 22 11-18 59.

Mount St. Joseph 17 23 9 16 – 65

St. Benedict’s 16 8 16 19 – 59

Archbishop Stepinac 70, No. 8 St. Frances 66

Stepinac – Means 11, Minaya 4, Davis 10, Griffin 25, Johnson 3, Hudson 10, Wilson 7. Totals 21 18-26 70.

St. Frances – Jones 6, Davis 11, Turner 4, Epps 12, Penn 6, Goodwin 19, Anoma 6, Toles 2. Totals 22 14-21 66.

Stepinac 13 25 14 18 – 70

St. Frances 13 26 13 14 – 65