Both Bob Miller and Keith Heinerichs expressed lament over their teams drawing each other in the first round of the District One Tournament. But more than anything, those concerns were a sign of mutual respect between Upper Darby and Haverford, and a bit of dismay that one of the Central League combatants will see its season end Friday night.
On the court, it’s an “open book”, in the words of Heinerichs, between his No. 23 Fords and No. 10 seed Upper Darby. The teams have played twice this season, the Royals claiming a 53-29 win in December and a 44-38 win in January. The strategic aspects of each team’s approach – Haverford’s deliberate, methodical, ball-movement offense vs. Upper Darby’s athleticism and battle to knock down shots – are well established. So this meeting is about the higher-order tactics, the little things each team hopes will shift the balance.
For Haverford (13-9, 8-8 Central), that involves changing something to overturn the recent history between the teams in the school’s first playoff appearance in at least six years, according to Heinerichs.
“They beat us both times, so obviously we have a lot of work to do,” Heinerichs said. “We have to definitely up our game and execution and play hard at both ends.”
The Fords tumbled down a murderous final stretch of their schedule, going 1-5. Only one of those losses – a let-down drubbing at the hands of a Garnet Valley team playing for its slim playoff chances after the Fords toppled Penncrest – was to a non-playoff team. Two of the losses were to top seed Conestoga by a combined eight points, plus a five-point loss to Ridley.
That ability to play with – if not finish against – Conestoga leaves the Fords’ confidence undented, knowing they’re hardened for playoff battle thanks to a difficult Central League slate.
“We play in a tough league, and every night we know we’re going to get a tough team and have a good coach on the opposite sideline,” Heinerichs said. “And for us to be one of the teams in the middle of that pack, that’s big for us.”
The search all season for the Fords has been to find secondary scoring options behind Tom Leibig, their only double-figures scorer at 12.6 points per game. Though the identity of that secondary threat oscillates between Mike O’Halloran, Ryan Clancy and Chris Lyons on a nightly basis, Heinerichs is confident in someone stepping up when called upon.
Both coaches shy away from portraying this matchup as a clash of styles, no matter what the numbers say. The Fords are a rather remarkable 8-2 in games they play in the 40s, while Upper Darby is 11-1 if they get over 50 points and 5-1 if they hit the 60-point milestone.
The flipside is the defense both teams are capable of. Haverford is limiting teams to an average of 45.3 points per game, while Upper Darby (14-7, 9-7) is holding teams to 48 in what Miller calls “one of our more underrated aspects.” Add in the fact that the Royals have lost just three home games in the last four seasons combined, and Miller has reason to feel good about his team’s chances.
Upper Darby’s midseason offensive woes, according to Miller, had little to do with pace or tempo but simply an inability to make shots. At 84 3-pointers, they are among the least-dependent on the triple in the Central League.
The Royals have to deal with an injury concern Friday, with forward Quadir Rice, their third-leading scorer at 10 points per game, likely out with an ankle problem. Miller has options on how to modify the lineup, either going big with Isheem Adams and allowing Beni Toure to play a more perimeter-oriented game, or opting for a smaller lineup with Toure in the post and Josh Akande on the perimeter.