Last Thursday the Mount’s Steph Smith (left) and Cailin Schmeer (right) had their hands full with Emily Homan, Delco Christian’s 6’4” center. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

After the Mount St. Joseph Academy Magic went ahead by a dozen points at the start of their last basketball game before Christmas, the visiting Knights of Delaware Country Christian School staged a 19-6 rally and put the Mount’s season-long win streak in jeopardy.

The Knights, who also entered last Thursday’s game without a loss (5-0), saw their 19-18 halftime edge disappear in the third quarter, and the Magic went on to achieve a 7-0 mark by claiming a 46-27 victory.

Pacing the offense for the winners were the usual senior suspects, guard Mary Jo Horgan (17 points, seven steals, four rebounds, two assists), and forward Steph Smith (15 points, six rebounds, three steals, three assists).

Juniors Cailin Schmeer and Bridget Higgins (three rebounds, three assists) produced eight and four points, respectively, and senior Meg Black and sophomore Meg Geatens each tossed in a free throw.

Literally the “center” of attention for the Mount St. Joe defense was Delco’s 6’4” Emily Homan; the hosts held the Lafayette College recruit to six points in the contest. The Knights were able to make a game of it in the first half thanks to guards Stacey MacArthur and Emily Evans. Only a sophomore, MacArthur led the visitors in scoring with 11 points overall, while Evans, a senior, finished with seven.

Horgan got the Magic started with a pair of free throws, then three field goals by Schmeer and four successful foul shots by Higgins had the hosts ahead 12-0 less than three minutes into the game. With a little over three minutes left in the initial period, the Knights’ Homan hit back-to-back baskets in the paint, and it was enough to spark a revival for Delco Christian.

MacArthur then joined in for the visitors, slashing to the basket and then canning a three-pointer early in the second round. The Magic, up 14-9 at the end of the first quarter, saw their lead dwindle until Delco’s Evans scored off a steal to even the score at 16-all.

The home team regained the lead with a baseline jumper by Smith, but one free throw by MacArthur and two for Homan gave the guests a 19-18 lead at the intermission. Acting hastily on offense, the Magic had repeatedly tried to drive to the hoop against Homan, who blocked eight of their lay-ups.

“I thought some frustration set in for us,” commented MSJ coach John Miller. “We were making uncharacteristic mistakes, and people were taking it on their own shoulders to bring us back.

“We didn’t turn the ball over very much against their press,” he continued, “but when we came down the floor we would try to go in and score without running a play, and we’re a better team when we run our plays.”

The Mount mentor felt that if Delco’s Homan was going to stay low in the paint and stop the Magic guards from penetrating for lay-ups, he could take advantage of the 6’1” Smith’s ability to shoot the midrange jumper.

“I told Steph just to step out,” Miller said, “and I told the guards to look for Steph, and she’ll be open for that 15-footer.”

The second half opened with a three-pointer by MacArthur that put the visitors up 22-18, but Horgan quickly matched that trey and then scored a lay-up off a pass from Schmeer to move the Magic ahead, 23-22, two minutes into the third quarter. After MacArthur’s “three,” the Knights did not score again for more than 10 minutes.

Three straight field goals by Smith and a jumper by Schmeer made it 31-22 at the three-quarter mark, and the Mount was rolling. Smith continued to lead the MSJ offense in the final period, recording 13 of her 15 total points in the second half of the game. The Mount’s intense defensive effort in the second half had come at the cost of only two team fouls.

Assessing the state of his ballclub at this stage of the season, Miller noted, “We’ve played some good non-league teams, and the three league games we won were all on the road, so in the 2011 part of the schedule we’ll have just five league games on the road and eight at home. I really like the way we’re playing.”