Boys Basketball: Thoughts on the opening weekend

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Academy Park may have lost a heartbreaker to Penncrest, but players like Cyrie Spencer, left, are one reason why the Knights should be able to make a push to qualifying for the District One playoffs. 

TIMES STAFF/ROBERT J. GURECKI

It’s finally here.

The basketball season got hot and heavy right away this weekend as everyone in the county – sans defending PIAA Class AAAA champion Chester – was in action. I took in Strath Haven and Chichester Friday night, but also got the chance to catch the end of the Academy Park-Penncrest game. Here are some thoughts.

It’s incredible that the Lions came out with the win. They could never get closer than seven or eight points until the very end, but that’s really the only time it mattered. Eddie Baxter nailed a pair of key free throws with 46.7 seconds to go and then canned an uncontested 3-pointer with 15.8 seconds to go. With the Knights trying to dribble out the clock, Ben Casanova leapt in air for a steal and dished the ball over to Baxter in the corner. Baxter’s 3-ball clanged off the rim, but Kalvin Simpson jumped over, well, pretty much everyone, and dunked the ball in with 6.0 seconds to go for the go-ahead points. AP’s final attempt went awry, sealing the impressive come-from-behind win.

“All game, coach (Mike Dolan) says crash boards,” Simpson said. “If you’ve got a rebound, you want to win. So the only thing going through my mind when the shot goes up is crash the board. When (the ball) came back out, it was just the right place at the right time.”

Casanova’s steal was obviously what the Lions wanted, but they would have been hard-pressed to expect it.

“We were trying to get the steal, but we were expecting them to get it in and we were going to foul,” Baxter said. “Ben read it, stole it, and I just had the ball in the corner and shot it. I thought it was in, but Kalvin came in and got it.”

Predicted by most around the Central League to be the league’s No. 2 team behind Lower Merion, the Lions may have been caught peeking past an improved Knights team. While the comeback gives Penncrest experience playing in close games, Simpson admitted that there was a lot left to be desired.

“It’s really big, but it’s also a humbling experience,” Simpson said. “Because we didn’t intend to make it come down to the final second like that, so there’s a lot of improvement that has to go on.”

It was hard not to be impressed with Simpson. He’s every bit of 6-6, incredibly athletic and has a good feel around the basket. He’s a fluid athlete that can move around a bit on the court for the Lions and gives Doyle some flexibility. But even though he didn’t put up the same stats as Simpson, Rahmi Halaby might have been just as good. Halaby, who had the best hair and shoe game going on Friday – really, what else is important? – did some really nice things at both ends of the floor. He had a big block that seemed to turn the tide and he and Simpson will give a lot of teams fits.

For AP, I really liked Terran HammTravis Smith and Cyrie Spencer. The Knights didn’t have the size to handle the bigger Lions inside, but with their guard play, they’re a dangerous team on any given night.

ooo

Christian Irons came out possessed to start the season. The Interboro junior claimed MVP honors at the Bucs’ tournament with 31 points and 27 rebounds in two games. I’m no math major, but something tells me 15.5 points and 13.5 rebounds per game is pretty good. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Irons average a double-double this year.

No Malcolm Richardson, no problem for Penn Wood. Tyree Bynum went off for 25 and 20 in his two games this weekend. As the Patriots’ No. 1 scoring option, Bynum’s probably going to have a few more games like that.

Eric Trowery sure knows how to make a big first impression. The Coatesville transfer went off for 18 and 26 in his first two games as a Panther, and I love what he brings to the floor. He erupted in the second half of the Chichester game and burned the Eagles badly. He was the main reason why Strath Haven outscored Chi, 22-4, in the third quarter, which turned the game around 180 degrees. After seeing him play against the Eagles, I’m also a big John Fender fan. He runs well, rebounds and scores. Does it all.

Last year, Bonner-Prendergast won two games. This year? The Friars have already matched that total in two games. Danny Ings had 11 points in both games and Pat Vanderslice drained five 3-pointers in a 66-60 overtime win over Pope John Paul II. Last year, Bonner might not have won that type of game.

In that same vein, Episcopal Academy won seven games last year. With their 46-44 win over Phelps School Monday, the Churchmen are 5-0. Lacrosse All-Delco Kevin Gayhardt has been a monster on the boards as he already has a pair of 12-rebound games and his late layup gave EA the win against Phelps. Chris McNeal has scored at least 13 points in three straight games, including 19 against Devon Prep and 15 against Phelps.

Garnet Valley came into the year with three straight 1-win seasons. The Jaguars would have to lose every remaining game for that to happen again after their 45-28 win over rival Unionville. Joey Sweeney and Kyle McCrossan each had eight in that game, while Sweeney lit up Kennett for 18 in the season opener. Is this the year GV makes some noise in the Central League?

The scoring leaders page – found here – won’t be updated for a little while until more games are played, but I’m keeping another page of stats – found here – for stats such as 20-point games, 30-point games, 10+-rebound games, 8+-assist games, 5+-block games and 3-pointers in a game (minimum of four). That should hold you over for the time being. Keep in mind that ALL STATS – yes, in all caps to make sure you see it – are based off of what is reported to the Daily Times. If you feel a correction is needed, do not leave in the comments. Email me at mchandik@delcotimes.com.

– MATT CHANDIK

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