It’s the major question facing Penn Wood as it embarks on its quest for a District One Class AAAA title. At least it’s major to everyone but coach Clyde Jones.
The Patriots’ success this season in winning their first Del Val title since 2009-10 has been fueled by Malik Jackson, Delco’s leading scorer who is averaging over 20 points per game. He’s accounted for right around a third of Penn Wood’s total point production.
And, more importantly, it seems the Patriots (15-6, 9-1) go as Jackson goes. In the five games he’s failed to get into double-digits, they are 2-3. When Jackson eclipses the 24-point mark, the Patriots are 9-1.
There’s no doubting how vital Jackson is to Penn Wood’s approach. But Jones is adamant that if Jackson is off, they have alternatives at the ready.
That confidence is the product of a team-wide maturation process that has taken time.
“We believe we can,” Jones said Tuesday after his team wrapped up the Del Val crown by beating Glen Mills, 54-46, Jackson unsurprisingly leading the way with 25 points. “… The bottom line is empowering other guys to believe that they can score – or miss shots – just as well as the other man. We believe we have a couple pieces that can score the ball, and now because teams have been box-and-1-ing (Jackson) and shading toward his side, we’ve actually found out how to execute even better get him clean looks. And we also have guys like Landen Jenkins and Addison Scott and Antonio Ward who can get in the lane and feed other teammates, so we believe we have a remedy if it happens.”
The backcourt configurations have been tinkered with throughout the season, and Jones is pleased with the options he has at his disposal. Against Glen Mills, for instance, Jenkins got the start in favor of Ward for his zone-busting shooting ability from 3-point land, figuring the Battlin’ Bulls would employ a box-and-1 as they did in their earlier meeting. Ward is more adept at getting to the basket, while Scott’s length provides the ability to dart through tight quarters in the lane or rise above defenders for pull-up mid-range jumpers.
All of those options provide the counterpoint required to open up space for Jackson.
The Patriots will face a challenge against No. 24 Bishop Shanahan (14-8, 12-3 Ches-Mont National). The Eagles have a knack for shutting down other team’s primary threats, but they also can be susceptible to the 3-pointer, giving up 11 in a loss to Great Valley in the Ches-Mont playoffs.
The Eagles are 1-3 against Delco opposition this season, beating Marple Newtown, Sun Valley and Interboro by a total of 11 points while losing to Episcopal Academy. Shanahan isn’t a terribly tall team, and the Patriots could be vulnerable to a team with length. Senior guard Mike Booth is one of the team’s leaders.
Shutting down Jackson won’t be easy for Shanahan. His numbers, especially in terms of percentage of points scored behind the arc, might make him look like a passive participant in the offense, reliant on others to open up his shot opportunities. But he’s adept at creating his own shot and is dogged in working off screens.
No matter who the opponent is, the Patriots’ approach is to focus on what they can do.
“The reality of it is, that’s just a great weapon, isn’t it?,” Jones said of Jackson. “To have a kid who can shoot the ball like that, but more importantly, when you have the type of team we have, I have two pure point guards. I don’t need Malik to handle the ball a whole lot. … There’s a number of things we can do with Malik, but right now, his job is to be an assassin.”