By Nelson Coffin
McDonogh coach Brad Rees said that his three seniors and four juniors, who log most of the playing time for the Eagles in the A Coinference, have 24 years of combined quality basketball experience to lean on when things aren't going particularly well.
Rees’ team needed to draw on that resource when it fell behind Roland Park by 10 points on Wednesday in what turned out to be a 53-45 victory for the Eagles.
“I thought we had lost our composure and they had us back on our heels a little bit,” Rees said, recounting the Reds’ 12-2 run that gave them a 25-15 advantage with 2:12 left in the first half.
Sophomore guard Rain Green started the Reds’ roll on a scoop-and-score that was eventually followed by senior guard Aniyah Carpenter’s baseline trey and a runner by junior Maria Ferariu to build a 21-13 lead.
After senior guard Kayla Liles scored on an in-bounds play for McDonogh, junior guard Ja'Niah Henson and Green responded with baskets to pump Roland Park’s advantage to double digits.
Unfortunately for the Reds and to McDonogh’s credit, those were the best moments for Roland Park because McDonogh did a 180 at that point.
In the final two minutes of the first half and first five minutes of the second half, the Eagles (11-1, 3-0 conference) turned the table on the Reds and they never got closer than four points the rest of the way.
Dribble-drive penetration by Rees’ five-guard alignment helped McDonogh earn an impressive 21 trips to the free-throw line where it connected 16 times — 76 percent — while Roland Park only converted twice in seven tries from the charity stripe.
Senior Taleah Dixon led the way for McDonogh, scoring a game-high 18 points.
The Loyola University Maryland commit ignited the Eagle comeback with a pair of free throws before junior guard Jessica Booth mirrored that effort with two more successful foul shots.
Junior guard Aleah Nelson then took charge by nailing a three-pointer that cut Roland Park’s lead to 25-22 and then deadlocked the score 19 seconds before the intermission when she converted a feed from senior Kayla Liles into an old-school three-point play.
Junior Treasure Valdez’s coast-to-coast drive to open the third period gave McDonogh its first lead since the middle of the opening period and the Eagles were still not done with their rally.
A baseline drive by Booth was followed by a Dixon jumper to give the Eagles a 31-25 advantage.
Henson finally got the Reds (13-3, 2-1 league) back on the board with a baseline runner, although McDonogh countered when Booth found Valdez underneath for a bucket and Dixon went 1-for-2 from the foul line for a 37-29 bulge with just under three minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Even though the Reds had plenty of time to recover with nearly 10 minutes of regulation remaining, they were unable to beat the Eagles for the first time since December of 2014.
“After we got into foul trouble, it changed our substitution pattern,” Roland Park coach Scott Buckley said, alluding to the fact that sophomore star Mir McLean (16 points, 17 rebounds) was relegated to the bench late in the first half. “And they made a nice run with Mir out of the game.”
Turnovers also plagued Roland Park, owing in part to McDonogh relentless full-court pressure.
“We used the press the whole game,” Dixon said. “That’s always been our philosophy — and we stuck with it.”
Rees praised Dixon for minimizing McLean’s impact as much as she could,
“Our focus was to stop Mir and stop their transition, where they get a lot of their points,” he said. “And that’s the beauty of the press. Sooner or later it gets to you. It’s tough to handle mentally and physically for an entire game.”