By Nelson Coffin
Win or lose, the Big Game between B Conference basketball rivals Mercy and the Institute of Notre Dame is a sight to behold.
The crowd, big and loud, the facility (Towson University’s SECU Arena) and the magnitude of the rivalry make for a showcase worthy for a series that began 52 years ago and is only growing in stature.
On Friday night, both teams gave it their all — and all in attendance seemed to enjoy the the Baltimore City Catholic schools putting on such a highly-anticipated event.
Even in her fourth Big Game, IND senior wing Ja’Lyn Armstrong said that the atmosphere can be overwhelming.
“It’s still a shock,” said Armstrong, noting the amped-up atmosphere and the elevated noise level at SECU Arena for the battle. “Some people haven’t played in it before. It takes a moment. But once we identified who their shooters were and who their drivers were……”
Armstrong, who earned MVP honors for the Penguins (15-6, 10-1 conference) for scoring a game-high nine points, said that defense was the difference in the 39-30 victory over the Magic.
And once the defense started clamping down, the offense perked up as well.
“We got those first-quarter jitters out of the way,” IND coach Robert DuBose said.
A 15-0 run to open the second period was the key sequence for IND’s fifth-straight Big Game triumph that narrowed Mercy’s all-time lead in the series to 30-22.
It began on a three-pointer by sophomore guard Karis Ferguson and was continued by two free throws and a stick-back by Armstrong before junior guard La’Shyra Williams scored inside.
Williams then swished a runner in the paint before sophomore point guard Eniya Russell’s drive completed the outburst to give the Penguins a 21-7 cushion with three minutes to go in the quarter.
The Penguins maintained at least a double-digit lead until the waning moments of the game after Mercy (7-11, 4-8) produced 15 points in the fourth quarter — matching its output from the first three periods combined.
“The best thing about that is that (it shows that) we didn’t put our heads down,” said Mercy MVP Ada Clare Tempert, who topped the Magic with eight points and a slew of steals. “We never quit.”
The junior point guard, who has verbally committed to playing soccer at James Madison University, was a major factor in her team carving into a hefty 15-point lead in the fourth quarter.
“She is my defensive beast,” Mercy coach Steve Anderson said about Tempert’s grit and hustle on the court. “She just keeps going and going and going.”
Her antics even inspire her rivals to up their game, as Armstrong did on a determined drive with just over three minutes remaining in the contest and Tempert trying to deny her a path to the hoop.
“She makes me play harder because basketball is not her main sport,” she said. “But after the game we’re still friends. That’s what it’s all about.”
Armstrong, who has signed to play basketball at LIU-Post along with teammate Madison DuBose, said that winning all four Big Games against Mercy is special.
“It just means so much to us,” she said.
To Robert DuBose, Friday’s win means something as well.
“We’re closing the gap (on the all-time series),” he said. “We told the girls we want to make it a point to win the game and make our other goals, too. We want to win the IAAM B Conference.”