Boys Basketball: Central League Semifinal Preview

Upper Darby's Kuity Slanger, left, and Ridley's Jon McGill will do battle again in Thursday night's Central League semifinal. TIMES STAFF/JULIA WILKINSON

Upper Darby’s Kuity Slanger, left, and Ridley’s Jon McGill will do battle again in Thursday night’s Central League semifinal. The teams split the season series.

The first time Ridley and Upper Darby met, things couldn’t have been much more lopsided for the Green Raiders as they cruised to a surprisingly easy 55-32 win.

So naturally, when the teams met again, the Royals came roaring back and won thanks to Beni Toure‘s overtime putback with time dwindling down.

The rubber match will be held Thursday at 8 p.m. at Marple Newtown with as the No. 2 Royals and No. 3 Green Raiders battle for a shot at the championship against top-seeded Lower Merion Saturday at 8 p.m.

Upper Darby (15-6, 12-4) comes in riding an eight-game league winning streak and it’s safe to say that the Royals have exceeded most people’s expectations. Ridley (16-5, 11-5) started off hot, but it limps in having lost three of four, including an upset 41-38 loss to surging Garnet Valley Tuesday night.

“The shots just haven’t been falling for us the way they were earlier this season,” Ridley coach Mike Snyder said. “Earlier this year, we were just hitting a ton of shots and we’ve kind of slowed down a little bit.”

The Green Raiders are still a formidable foe, though. Jon McGill and Ken Bartow have carried the scoring load all season, but Mike Smoluk has raised his game of late and Zain Shaw has emerged as a low post threat who can also step outside and hit an occasional 3-pointer. Shaw will see a lot of Quadir Rice and Beni Toure from Upper Darby. Toure has been knicked up and probably won’t be at 100 percent for the rest of the year, but he remains the Royals’ most versatile player. Rice has scored in double-figures in the past four games and figures to see a good amount of chances against a smaller Ridley team.

“Quadir’s really been coming on of late,” Royals coach Bob Miller said. “He’s been averaging double-digits of late and he’s doing some good things for us.”

Upper Darby’s bread, though, is buttered behind the 3-point line. James Fisher and Kuity Slanger have combined for 80 (ed: fixed from 90) 3-pointers this year and they’re good enough to heat up at a moment’s notice. That type of long-distance range means the Royals are never out of a game.

“It gives them confidence knowing that they can always get back into a game,” Miller said. “They know they’re never out of it and that helps a lot. Against Glen Mills, we almost won and we were down by, what, 20 points in the fourth quarter?”

Ridley will need McGill and Bartow to come through with big efforts to beat the Royals. McGill got off a torrid start this season, but his play has plateaued a bit of late, no doubt thanks to the increased defensive attention that his great start earned him. Bartow is the real X-factor for the Green Raiders. If he can score 15 or more and provide the jolt he tends to give Ridley, the Green Raiders will be in a good position.

Most crucial battle: Zain Shaw vs. Beni Toure/Quadir Rice. In a battle of two teams that aren’t the biggest around, the one that can control the paint will have a decided advantage.

Second most crucial battle: Ridley vs. Upper Darby’s 3-point shooters. Leave them open and the Royals will be in business. Once Fisher gets going, he doesn’t stop making threes.

The pick: Upper Darby 56, Ridley 54.

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