The Archbishop Curley basketball team has come a long way since winning just one league contest, a year ago. At home on Wednesday night, however, the upstart Friars finally gazed into the bright lights and blinked as they squandered an early lead and dropped a 43-37 decision to Friends School, in a game that was critical to both team’s post-season hopes.

Friends struggled offensively in the first half, netting just one field goal in the first 10 minutes and 50 seconds of the contest, as Curley built an early 12-4 lead. In the end, however, the Quakers have two battle-tested senior stars who carried the day.

Jihar Williams scored 13 points, all in the first half, to keep Friends in the battle and guard Ross Jones netted a game-high 20 points, including nine in the third quarter, as the Quakers seized the lead for good.

Friends coach Albert Holley sleeps better at night knowing he has Williams and Jones in his lineup.

“They have helped me build the program. [They’ve] been our pillar since we’ve been here,” said Holley. “Both of them play really hard. Both of them leave their hearts out there for me. It’s how it has gone for us this season, Jihar will get us started and Ross will, generally, close it out for us. When you have two seniors who can play at that level, that like playing the game and like winning and competing, it makes life a lot easier.”    

With his team trailing 21-19 early in the third quarter, Jones scored back-to-back baskets to give the Quakers their first lead since an early 1-0 advantage. The game was tied two more times over the next couple of minutes before Jones hit a driving layup and followed with a 3-point jumper to push the Quakers on top 30-25 and they were able to stay in front the rest of the way.

Ross JonesJones said he made a focused effort to attack the basket in the second half.

“In the second half, I just wanted to get to the basket and get myself going on offense,” said Jones, who became the school’s all-time leading scorer earlier this year. “In the first half, I wasn’t really effective on the offensive end, but in the second half the objective was to get to the rim.”

Friends’ biggest lead was eight after Jones opened the fourth quarter with a field goal to build a 35-27 advantage. Curley, however, scored five straight points to pull within three and got within one, at 38-37, with 1:03 remaining in the fourth quarter, following a pair of free throws from senior Deion Booker.

Friends, however, got a huge three-point play from sophomore CJ Johnson, who drove the base-line to power in a layup as he was fouled. Jones then added a couple of free throws in the final seconds to close out the victory.

Both teams shot poorly from beyond the three-point arc as Friends missed its first nine long-range jumpers, before hitting two late in the third quarter. Curley went 0-for-9 from three-point range. Curley also severely hurt its chances of victory with a 13-for-27 performance from the free – line. Booker and Kamron Chambers each finished with 10 points to lead the Friars.

Curley (10-10 overall, 4-5 MIAA B) entered the day in second-place in the Red Division of the B Conference, but slipped all the way to fourth with the defeat. With four league games to play, the Friars still have an opportunity to finish in the top three and gain a playoff birth, but Friends (13-9 overall, 5-6 MIAA B) owns the tie-break by virtue of sweeping the season series with the Friars.

Regardless of how it turns out, first-year Curley head coach Phil Hahn, who played at Towson Catholic in the early 2000’s with NBA superstar Carmelo Anthony, feels his team is gaining valuable experience.

“I think maybe today, they started to realize what they had in front of them and maybe the moment got too big, but you learn from it and you move on. We’ve got four more conference games in the next nine days,” added Hahn. “It is great to be in these moments and we have four special games coming up. I am very happy with our progress so far.”

The Quakers slipped into third-place in the division and sit just a half game back of second-place Gerstell Academy (5-5). Friends will visit Gerstell next Wednesday, before closing its regular season at St. John’s Catholic Prep on Feb. 17, and has its playoff destiny in its own hands.

According to Williams, the victory is the springboard the Quakers were seeking.

“It’s really important,” said Williams. “We needed this win to help us get in and now it’s on to the next [one].”

Curley will host Gerstell on Friday, visit Severn on Monday, visit St. John’s next Wednesday and host St. Paul’s on the 17th. In addition to games with the Quakers and Friars, Gerstell will host Indian Creek on the 17th.

Friends’ victory also allowed St. Paul’s (9-2) to clinch first-place in the Red Division and Crusaders have earned a first-round playoff bye.

FR    4  14  15  10  —  43
AC  10  10    7  10  —  37
Williams 13, Jones 20, Kirkwood 1, Sheusi 2, Samuels 3, Johnson 4. TOTALS: 15 11-19 43.
Victor 2, Knapp 3, Brooks 6, Booker 10, Chambers 10, Medley-Bacon 6. TOTALS: 12 13-27 37.