Ed. note: I’m not going to do a rewind for every game of the playoffs. Rather, I’ll be putting together assorted notes on each round.
If overtime, buzzer beaters, naibiters and overtime buzzer beaters are your thing, then the first round of the District One Class AAAA playoffs were right up your alley. Strath Haven needed a buzzer-beating layup by Eric Trowery to tie the game against West Chester Henderson before getting a Kevin Sherry putback to win it in overtime. Penncrest didn’t need extra time, but still pulled out a close one over Spring-Ford. Penn Wood got a 3-ball at the overtime buzzer from Tyree Bynum to dismiss Pac-10 champion Perkiomen Valley. Ridley doubled its fun in overtime before beating Cheltenham. Upper Darby’s Kuity Slanger drained a 3-ball right before the buzzer to beat North Penn. Chester…Chester elected to not participate in the “close game” theory. Always being different, those Clippers.
But after a regular season where a ton of people dismissed the Central League as a one-team league that was full of mediocrity and low on talent, a sterling 6-1 record from the league in the first round had to shut some doubters up. That lone loss? That was a certainty that one league team would lose when Conestoga played Lower Merion. The Aces held serve, but not until after getting a scare for three quarters from the upstart Pioneers. But when you look at it, the Central League more than held up its end of the bargain, especially considering a lot of its teams were deemed popular upset picks.
Will it hold up in the second round? Who knows. I can’t say I like Strath Haven’s chances against Chester, but crazier things have happened. Two Central team are definitely moving on and two are definitely going home when Upper Darby tangles with Harriton and Lower Merion dances with Penncrest. The Royals won, 44-40, the first time over the Rams, while the Aces thumped the Lions, 70-42.
Other than that? Let’s start with Strath Haven. When Tyrone Legree, the Panthers’ seasoned point guard, fouled out midway through the third quarter, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see Haven wilt. Instead, a bevy of players took their turn at handling the ball, but none more so than Mike Fisher. The junior guard came off the bench in the first half to provide a spark and continued his hot streak when he took over for Legree. Fisher had a heck of a runner that fell at the third-quarter buzzer to trim the Warriors’ lead to 34-30 and in turn, gave Haven the momentum. He also drilled a 3-ball on the Panthers’ first trip down the court in the fourth quarter and didn’t look rattled by the big moment.
“ As soon as (Legree) went out, I knew I had to step up. He told me, too. Every timeout, he told me, ‘this is your team next year. You need to step up.’ And so were all the coaches, they’re telling me, ‘big game, you’ve got to step up,” Fisher said.
“When something like that happens, the rest of the team has to step up,” Tevon Howie said.
Consider it done. But it took a team effort to get there. Howie hit a pair of clutch free throws in the overtime period. What was going on through his head?
“Don’t miss it,” Howie said with a laugh. “Please, on everything, don’t miss it. I’ve got to make these. My team is counting on me.”
Prior to that, Eric Trowery scored eight straight Haven points to send it to OT. In that stretch was one of the more, um, “confusing” moments of the year as Trowery stole the ball and tossed down a dunk that he was immediately assessed a technical foul for. The referees claimed he was hanging on the rim for show, but overturned it for whatever reason. More than likely because it was an awful call.
Give the Green Raiders a lot of credit. It would have been easy for them to fold up shop after taking Lower Merion down to the wire in the Central League final. An emotional loss like that can linger at times, but Mike Snyder‘s bunch battled hard. The stats that really jump off the page are the clutch numbers put up by Mike Smoluk and Zain Shaw. Smoluk was 9-for-1o from the line in the 61-58 double OT win over Cheltenham, but more importantly, was 6-for-6 from the stripe in bonus basketball.
In that same vein, Shaw was held scoreless in the first half, but erupted for all of his team-best 16 points in the second half and overtime. Ridley is so much more dangerous when he’s involved offensively because he’s their only real force as a big man. Jon McGill is very good, but he’s more comfortable shooting jumpers – with good reason because he’s excellent at that- than working out of the post. Shaw relies mostly on his inside game, but can also pop out and hit a 3-ball.
You picked a good time for a career-high 14 points, Brett Foster.
Upper Darby finds a way
Somehow, some way, the Royals just keep finding a way to come up with big wins. Kuity Slanger was the hero against North Penn as he knocked down a triple right before the buzzer to seal the 45-44 win. I’ve mentioned this before, but that’s a trait from Slanger that I admire a lot. He could miss 100 shots in a row and still want the ball in crunch time. Shooter’s mentality, I suppose.
Quadir Rice came through with a big game for UD, though. When he and Beni Toure (10 points, including two 3-pointers), the Royals are a handful for anyone because they don’t have to rely on Slanger and James Fisher to make a ton of outside shots. UD doesn’t have any superstars, but when the shots are falling and when the Royals can provide consistent defensive pressure, they are tough to beat.
Bynum comes through for Penn Wood
By now, if you don’t know about Tyree Bynum‘s scoring exploits for Penn Wood, you don’t pay attention too well. Bynum exploded for his 14th (!!!) 20-point game of the year, including his third in a row, by dropping 26 in a 69-66 overtime win over Pac-10 champion Perkiomen Valley. Oh, and there was that minor shot he hit. You know, the game-winning 3-ball at the overtime buzzer. Bynum has proven time and time again that he can come through for Penn Wood, so it was an easy decision for Clyde Jones to make when the Patriots got the ball and called timeout.
“He wants the ball in the big moments,” Jones said of Bynum. “So I told him, ‘you’re taking this shot.’ He was all excited about it and man, it must have been a 30-footer.”
Bynum’s running mate, Secean Johnson, continues to impress with his consistency. Just your run-of-the-mill 19-point, 11-rebound night for him. But has Penn Wood found another scoring option? Jeff Padilioni had 10 points, which marked his third foray into double-digits in the past four games and came on the heels of a career-high 19 points. If he can keep it going, expect the Patriots to make another deep run.
Chester steamrolls another one
As expected, the Clippers routed West Chester Rustin, 86-57. Chester came out slow and trailed, 19-13, after a quarter, but outscored the Golden Knights 53-21 in the second and fourth quarters. Not bad, considering those sandwiched a 20-17 third quarter. Here’s a scary thought. Reigning Daily Times Player of the Year Rondae Jefferson is hitting threes. Multiple. He had a pair against Rustin, which I believe is a career-best,which only adds to his skill set.
As usual, the Clippers’ depth shined through. Center Richard Granberry was held to four points, but that was fine since Rashan DeJarnette posted a career-high 18 points. Chester will host Strath Haven in all-Delco affair Tuesday night.
Check back soon for a look at the second round and the Catholic League playoffs.
- MATT CHANDIK