There are plenty of teams in the District One Tournament who approach the game differently than Academy Park. For all the screening, methodical, half-court teams out there, Academy Park is cut from a different cloth. One of the few teams that really wants to push the tempo, press other teams and jack the score up into the 70s or 80s, it a bit of an unfortunate coincidence that the Knights run into a team with a similar mindset.
The Knights will face a stiff test from No. 5 Pennsbury, which possesses an attack that, at least ideologically, will be easy to parse and analyze.
The Falcons (18-4, 12-2 Suburban One National) enter with a vaunted résumé, their only losses coming to Abington (the district’s No. 7 seed) twice, top seed Conestoga and Trenton Catholic. Until running up against the Galloping Ghosts, Pennsbury was seen as one of the favorites in an uncharacteristically wide open field, which could still prove true.
In its first playoff appearance since 2008, Academy Park (14-7, 5-5 Del Val) didn’t expect an easy road. But the Knights’ goal is to qualify for states, and a team like Pennsbury is precisely the kind of opponent that stands in the way of that endeavor.
“We told the kids that if we want to make it to states, we’ve got to beat teams like this,” Academy Park coach Allen Brydges said. “So why not do it at the beginning?”
Brydges sincerely believes his guards can matchup with anyone in the district. The stats bear that out. Terran Hamm (12.0 points per game), Jawan Collins (14.5) and Travis Smith (16.2) are not just consistent in their offensive production, but all three are capable of going off any given night. To a man, they have the ability to both get to the basket (Collins may be the most adept at it) and score in transition or get shots from the half-court set up, as evidenced by Smith’s 41 made 3-pointers.
It’s likely that their offensive sets will fall more in the former category, as much by Pennsbury’s choosing as the desire of the Knights to force mistakes with their swarming full-court press.
The backcourt will have to negate the contributions of Pennsbury’s talented trio of Mekhi Bryant, Cameron Jones and Steve Ciotti, with defensive specialist Kaleb Taliaferro likely called on to cover Jones.
Even if the Knights are able to stalemate the game on the perimeter, they still face a 6-8 matchup nightmare in Derrick Woods. The responsibility will fall to Cyrie Spencer (13.5 points per game), who is giving up about four inches and likes to step out on the perimeter on the offensive end.
One of the senior leaders on a team that has patiently waited for this group to mature and make a playoff push, Brydges is confident that Spencer is equal to the task.
“We’re counting on Cyrie down low to get the job done,” he said. “He’s done a good job against the other big guys we’ve seen – and we’ve seen 6-8 and 6-9 kids – and we haven’t had that many problems even though we’re small.”
Should the game evolve into the expected run-and-gun, push-the-tempo style, offense will be a virtual certainty. That puts defense at a premium.
“I think it will come down to who plays better defense,” Brydges said. “Both teams can score and go up and down, but I think it’ll be about who defends better.”