Crusaders gain the advantage with a tough zone defense and outstanding free throw shooting

by Joe DiBlasi

The St. Paul’s Crusaders had a quick turnaround from their Friday evening victory over St. Mary’s, in Annapolis, when they welcomed in Archbishop Curley, Saturday afternoon, for an important MIAA B Conference basketball showdown.

Both squads appeared sluggish offensively with the early start, but ultimately the host Crusaders utilized their vast edge in size to bully their way to the free throw time 29 times, which was key to their 53-49 victory over the Friars, in chilly Brooklandville, as the region braced for the first snow storm of 2019.

(From left) Ziggy Reid, Anthony-Smaldore and Troy Barthleme produced 47 of St. Paul’s 53 points in a win over Curley.

Both teams shot an impressive 83% from the charity stripe, but unfortunately for the Friars they only had six attempts from the line, as they converted five times. The Crusaders made 24 of their 29 attempts giving them a 19 point spread in that department.

St. Paul’s also shined on defense in the early going, holding Curley scoreless for first six minutes of the game when they took an 8-0 lead. The scrappy Friars, however, battled back and trailed by just two points at the half, at 20-18.

Of course, St. Paul’s first-year coach Phil Hahn expected as much from the Friars, who coached the last two seasons. Current Curley coach Darnell Hopkins was Hahn’s top assistant during that tenure. Moreover, both coaches, who describe themselves as best friends, played high school ball together at Towson Catholic with NBA star Carmelo Anthony.

Curley continued to surge at the outset of the third quarter and, at one point, took a four-point lead on back-to-back threes. St. Paul’s fought back to build 37-32 lead after three quarters, but Curley forged a 40-40 tie with five minutes to go in regulation.

Leo Kelly made two free throws to help the Crusaders regain the lead with 4:51 to go, but Curley tied it again, 20 seconds later, on a jumper from Niyon Carroll. The Crusaders took the lead again, and this time for keeps, when sophomore point guard Anthony Smaldore hit two free throws and senior Troy Barthelme added two more to make it 46-42. Smaldore, who opened the game with a three-pointer, hit a clutch three with just over three minutes to go in the in regulation that sealed the win for St. Paul’s.

The win vaulted St. Paul’s (11-5, 6-1 MIAA B) into sole possession of first place in the B Conference, a half game in front of defending champion Gerstell Academy (5-1). Curley (8-7 overall) fell back into a tie for third place with St. John’s Catholic Prep, each with 4-2 league records.

Crusader senior Ziggy Reid lead all scorers with 24 points,15 of which came in the first half, and Barthelme, who was held scoreless in the first half threw in 13 in the second half, going 10-for-12 from the line and draining a three-pointer from the top of the key.

The Crusaders scored 16 points in the fourth quarter to hang on for the win, and all but the 3-pointer from Smaldore came at the foul line.

“They were trying to rush us, trying to make us make turnovers, and we tried to stay strong and hit good layups and good shots,” said Reid, a four-year starter for the Crusaders. “They played really hard, they’re scrappy.”

Barthelme talked about the defense that Hahn employed.

“Our zone concepts work really well, especially against a team like this,” said Barthelme. “We can take away the 3-pointer, and they were shooting floaters over top, so we switched it up and gave them some man looks, and then we gave them some 1-3-1.

“They were tough on me in the first half,” continued Barthelme. “We’re going to be physical so I kept posting up but I didn’t get as many shots as I usually get.”

Smaldore, cognizant of the fact that the Crusaders won the game at the foul line said, “We spend at least 15 to 20 minutes every practice getting free throws up.”

“I knew they would be really well prepared for what we do,” said Hahn of Curley. “We tried to keep them from pushing the ball up the floor and getting 3-point shots.”

Hopkins, who got a team-high 14 points from junior Caleb Johnson, said he proud of his squad’s effort.

“We played hard today and didn’t give up,” said Hopkins, who played in the NCAA Tournament with Murray State. “We’re a small team, so when we play bigger teams, we’ve got to be help-side on defense in order to stop that inside game.”

Both Hahn and Hopkins are from the coaching tree of Baltimore Catholic League Hall of Fame coach Mike Daniel, who just retired last season after building championship programs at TC, City College and New Town High School over the previous 32 years. Daniel won 361 games and four BCL titles at Towson Catholic and four public school state championships (two each at City and New Town).

“Coach Mike Daniel has been very influential in both of our coaching careers,” said Hahn. “If I could build the relationships here that Mike built, I would be blessed.”

Pictured above: St. Paul’s Anthony Smaldmore (right), who hit a pair of big three-pointers, works against Curley’s defense in the second half of the Crusaders 53-49 victory.

AC 4 14 14 16 — 49
SP 10 10 17 17 — 53
AC: Dobbins 7, Johnson 14, Lawson 4,
Boykin 1, Carroll 7, Grey 6, Brandon 2,
Knapp 6, Brett 2. TOTALS 20 5-6 49.
SP: Smaldore 10, Reid 24, Barthelme 13,
Kelly 4, Moore 2. TOTALS 12 24-29 53.