Coming within one shot of eliminating Philadelphia's best team was little consolation to the Archbishop Spalding players after a 54-52 loss to St. Joseph's Prep tonight in the semifinals of the Alhambra Catholic Invitational tournament.
But as his distraught team contemplated the loss in the locker room of Frostburg State's Bobcat Arena, Spalding Coach Mike Glick saw the tough defeat as an affirmation of a tough team.
"Our guys gave a great comeback," Glick said. "We've got a bunch of guys who are winners. I'm proud of this effort."
St. Joseph's (30-1) will play 16th-ranked Bishop O'Connell in the championship of the 43-year-old tournament Saturday at 8:15 p.m. The Knights defeated Judge Memorial of Salt Lake City, 71-54, in the other semifinal.
No. 6 Spalding (25-7), which lost the Baltimore Catholic League championship game to Mount St. Joseph's by one point, will play Cathedral of Hamilton, Ontario, in the third-place consolation Saturday night.
The Cavaliers trailed St. Joseph's, 50-42, but managed to pull to 53-52 with 20 seconds remaining after a layup by Jesse Brooks. The Hawks made 1 of 2 free throws with 2.5 seconds left, but Brooks's half-court heave hit the back iron and bounced long.
Spalding's Matt Latonic had ended the third quarter by making a shot from three-quarters length as time expired.
"They already made the one-in-a-thousand shot once in the second half," St. Joseph's Coach William "Speedy" Morris said. "And the second one didn't miss by much."
The Cavaliers never established a groove on offense against St. Joseph's, the Philadelphia Catholic League champion. St. Joseph's senior Kyle Eisenmann applied tight defense on Spalding's leading scorer, Rudy Gay, holding him to six points -- eight below his average.
Spalding's 7-footer Will Bowers had 23 points against a matchup zone that provided regular double, triple and quadruple teams. But Bowers's main defender, senior Mark Zoller, finished with 12 rebounds to Bowers's three.
"We've been winning all year with our defense," Eisenmann said. "We knew they had the two big guys that we had to stop. [Gay] was my man, I had to shut him down, and we needed everybody to give a hand on [Bowers]."
For the second straight season, O'Connell advanced to the final. Last season, the Knights lost to DeMatha, 68-63, in the championship game.
O'Connell (23-5) was paced by junior guard Erik Smith, who had 22 points, including six three-pointers. Brian Johnson, a 6-foot-9 junior, added 15 points.