Times-News Staff Writer
FROSTBURG — The Benedictine Cadets stayed between the St. Frances Panthers and the basket, keeping them off the glass in advancing to the semifinal round of the 53rd Alhambra Catholic Invitational Tournament with a 60-43 win in Thursday’s opening game at Frostburg State University.
The Cadets, 32-4 and champion of the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association, received a balanced scoring attack, led by shooting guard Robert Johnson with 18 points, point guard Nick Coppola and forward Raymon Minor with 13 each and L.G. Gill with 11. Coppola kept the offense a step ahead of the Panthers with nine assists, but it was the balanced assault on the glass that allowed the Cadets to create the double-figure advantage late in the second quarter and helped them keep it for the rest of the game.
“The guys played pretty well defensively on the help side,” said Benedictine coach Robert Churchwell III. “Our defensive rebounding was key after a slow start, but we did a good job keeping (St. Frances) off the offensive boards.”
The Cadets outrebounded the Panthers, 39-25, with Johnson and Gill both getting seven, and center Nick Gorski and forward Clelin Ferrell six apiece. After outrebounding the Panthers by just 12 to 11 in the first quarter, the Cadets began to take control. After falling behind 8-1 in the first, the Cadets battled back to tie the score twice, the final tie coming at 16-16 at 5:24 of the second quarter on a Dwayne Morgan drive. Gill, however, put the Cadets back ahead with a strong baseline move, his second in a row, and Benedictine would begin to limit the St Frances possessions to one shot.
Johnson then followed one of three St. Frances turnovers (12 for the game) with a pair of free throws, before Coppola drove for a score and completed a three-point play at 3:42 to make it 24-16. After a Panthers timeout, Johnson hit a three-pointer from the right wing, followed by a Minor drive, before Tevon Saddler stopped the bleeding for St. Frances with a drive to bring the Panthers to within 29-18 at 1:16 of thki
Gill, however, hit a turnaround with 57 seconds left, which was followed by a Minor three-pointer from the left corner at 30 seconds to put the Cadets ahead at the half, 34-18.
“After the first quarter we executed well,” said Churchwell, who was the ACIT Most Outstanding Player in 1990 before continuing his career at Georgetown, with the Golden State Warriors and in Europe. “We haven’t played in two weeks, but we’ve had good practices. The guys are staying focused and did a good job of staying in front of their man on the defensive boards. We executed well.”
St. Frances would get back into it, albeit briefly, clawing its way to within 10 points, 41-31, at the end of the third quarter. Down by as many as 18, at 36-18, the Panthers got it down to 13 on baskets by Saddler, Lee and Maurice White. A Dwayne Morgan drive got it to 39-28 before Dayshawn Wells’ long three-pointer at 2:06 cut it to 41-31. It didn’t take long in the fourth, however, for Johnson to score once from the top of the key, once on a drive and for Coppola to drain a long three-pointer from up top to make it 48-33, which was as close as it would be the rest of the way.
St. Frances (31-6), the Baltimore Catholic League regular season champion, will play Bishop Walsh in today’s consolation semifinals. On Thursday the Panthers were led by Saddler with 15 points and Morgan with nine. They were never able to get untracked, though, as they shot just 35 percent (14 for 38) and were 6 for 15 from the free-throw line.
The Cadets, on the other hand, will take on Washington Catholic Athletic Conference regular-season champion Gonzaga in the championship semifinals.
“We’re having a good time here this weekend,” said Churchwell, “but we’re playing to win.”
Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org