[Baltimore Sun] No. 5 Spalding boys basketball takes charge, earns 60-56 win over No. 2 Mount Carmel in MIAA A semifinals

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Entering the playoffs on a roll, the surging Archbishop Spalding boys basketball team vowed to play hard, play together and take it to opponents.

In Thursday night’s Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference semifinal at No. 2 Mount Carmel, a team they lost to in both regular-season meetings, the No. 5 Cavaliers stuck to their collective word.

On the attack and under control throughout, Spalding got off to a fast start and then responded confidently to every push from the host Cougars. Junior forward Malik Washington scored 21 points and senior guard Mike Lonergan helped secure victory with five clutch free throws in the final 41 seconds to secure a 60-56 win.

Spalding (21-8) will take a seven-game winning streak into Saturday’s championship game against No. 1 Mount Saint Joseph. Game time is set for 6 p.m. at UMBC.

“In general, the goal coming into the playoffs was that we had to be the more intense, more energized team because when we play like that, we know we’re hard to beat. That showed tonight. We played with energy. We played together,” said Washington, who added six rebounds and six assists. “We’re hitting our stride at the right time — definitely at the right time — and now we’re heading to the championship game. I feel really good about our team, we’re rolling.”

Both of Spalding’s regular-season losses to Mount Carmel in January were by double-digits, but the Cavaliers have grown considerably since then.

It showed immediately Thursday.

Spalding jumped out to a 10-0 lead, led by as many as 14 points in the third quarter and, when the home team made its expected runs, held together to maintain a cushion. RJ Newton (12 points, seven rebounds, four locked shots) sparked the defense, working in tandem with Washington to control the boards.

Washington proved unstoppable going to the basket, getting to the free-throw line 14 times to help the Cavaliers stay ahead. Leading 45-31 with 4:17 to play in the third quarter, the Cougars, who got a sensational 22-point performance from sophomore wing Tristen Wilson, went on a 10-2 run to trail only 47-41 entering the fourth quarter.

Archbishop Spalding wing Malik Washington reacts after hitting a basket against Mount Carmel on Thursday. (Karl Merton Ferron/Staff)

The Cougars would close to within three points three times midway through the fourth quarter, but the Cavaliers kept finding an answer to fend them off. Washington got to the basket and then dished to Newton for an easy basket. The next time, TJ Multrie (12 points) scored going to basket with the Cavaliers pushing the tempo. And then Washington drove for a basket that made it 55-48 with 3:23 left.

Consecutive baskets by Wilson and Drew Dixon again got the Cougars within 55-52 with 1:56 to play. But the Cavaliers were able to get a defensive stop and then executed a key inbounds play with 43 seconds left in the game and four seconds left on the shot clock when Lonergan set up for a 3-pointer in the left corner and was fouled.

He hit all three free throws to push the led to 58-52 and with eight seconds to play. When the lead was cut to 58-56 after a basket by Wilson, Lonergan was back at the line and made two more free throws to secure the win.

“I saw all their fans behind the basket, but I knew I was built for the moment,” he said. “I’ve had a couple big free throws in the past few games, so I knew I was ready for it. And once I hit the first three, I knew I could come back and hit the last two.”

During timeouts in the fourth quarter, Spalding coach Josh Pratt’s messages were the same — stay aggressive and play to win.

“Play to win,” he said. “We’re going to make mistakes and early in the season we kind of dwelled on them and it took us out of our game for two or three minutes. Our body language wasn’t great. It really is different now. Mount Carmel is really good. But we’ve been playing well and we don’t waver.”

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For Mount Carmel, which will start preparing for next week’s Baltimore Catholic League Tournament, there were early indictors that Thursday wouldn’t be its day. Dixon, the team’s senior leader who finished with seven points, was injured in the game’s first minute and then dealt with foul trouble after returning to action. Ralph Rudusans provided an outside spark and finished with 12 points.

“For us, it was definitely Murphy’ Law — 10 seconds into the game and our only senior and best player goes down,” coach Tony Martin said. “Credit Spalding, they hit some shots and a couple things didn’t go our way. Every time we seemed to make a run there was something there to stop it.”

The Cavaliers will have a similar task in Saturday’s title game against Mount Saint Joseph, which also beat them twice during the regular season. On Dec. 15, the Gaels claimed a 56-50 win at Spalding before earning a 57-48 home victory Feb. 2.

Pratt knows he has a confident team that will be ready for Saturday’s big statge.

“We’re locked in — everybody. It’s a tribute to the kids, a tribute to our coaches,” he said. “We’re just doing a really nice job and it’s nice to be playing for a championship. Our goals aren’t over, we want to win a championship.”

AS     20  15  12   13  —  60

MC     13  14  14   15  —  56

AS — Washington 21, M. Lonergan 8, Moultrie 12, Barrett 2, Newton 12, Carter 5.

MC — Dixon 7, Tatum 1, Rudusans 12, Tr. Heflin 2, Mancho 7, Scott 5, Wilson 22.

With Archbishop Spalding Cavaliers wing Malik Washington #11 watching, point guard Kam Carter defends Mount Carmel Cougars wing/forward Tristen Wilson #10 who loses control of the ball which passes shooting guard Terrence Moultrie Jr to point guard Jaylin Sykes (not pictured) for a turnover during the 2024 MIAA Class A boys’ basketball semifinal at Our Lady of Mount Carmel. (Karl Merton Ferron/Staff)

Mount Carmel Cougars center Junior Mancho powers through a slam dunk above Archbishop Spalding Cavaliers shooting guard Terrence Moultrie Jr during the 2024 MIAA Class A boys’ basketball semifinal at Our Lady of Mount Carmel. (Karl Merton Ferron/Staff)

Mount Carmel Cougars center Junior Mancho, left watches forward Tristan Heflin run down a loose ball in front of Archbishop Spalding Cavaliers shooting guard Elijah Barrett and forward RJ Newton during the 2024 MIAA Class A boys’ basketball semifinal at Our Lady of Mount Carmel. (Karl Merton Ferron/Staff)

Archbishop Spalding Cavaliers point guard Kam Carter steals a pass intended for Mount Carmel Cougars wing/forward Mario Tatum during the 2024 MIAA Class A boys’ basketball semifinal at Our Lady of Mount Carmel. (Karl Merton Ferron/Staff)

Archbishop Spalding Cavaliers shooting guard Elijah Barrett drives for a basket between Mount Carmel Cougars center Junior Mancho, left and shooting forward Ralfs Rudusans during the 2024 MIAA Class A boys’ basketball semifinal at Our Lady of Mount Carmel. (Karl Merton Ferron/Staff)

Fans in the Cougars Den scream toward Archbishop Spalding Cavaliers shooting guard Michael Lonergan, but his crucial free throws pad the lead during the 2024 MIAA Class A boys’ basketball semifinal at Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The Cavs advance to the final with a 60-56 victory. (Karl Merton Ferron/Staff)

Archbishop Spalding Cavaliers point guard Kam Carter fires over Mount Carmel Cougars wing/forward Tristen Wilson to score a three point basket for a 10-0 Cavs run during the 2024 MIAA Class A boys’ basketball semifinal at Our Lady of Mount Carmel. (Karl Merton Ferron/Staff)

Archbishop Spalding Cavaliers forward RJ Newton turns after hitting a basket for a 7-0 run against the Mount Carmel Cougars during the 2024 MIAA Class A boys’ basketball semifinal at Our Lady of Mount Carmel. (Karl Merton Ferron/Staff)

Archbishop Spalding Cavaliers wing Malik Washington #11 and Mount Carmel Cougars center Junior Mancho #33 watch forward RJ Newton reject a layup by shooting forward Ralfs Rudusans during the 2024 MIAA Class A boys’ basketball semifinal at Our Lady of Mount Carmel. (Karl Merton Ferron/Staff)

Archbishop Spalding Cavaliers wing Malik Washington reacts after hitting a basket against the Mount Carmel Cougars during the 2024 MIAA Class A boys’ basketball semifinal at Our Lady of Mount Carmel. (Karl Merton Ferron/Staff)

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