There’s no way that what transpired between Abington Heights and Archbishop Carroll Tuesday night at Parkland High School felt anything like a PIAA second round game, possessing the skill level and intensity of a state semi, if not a final. Two of the best teams in the state went at each other for 32 minutes, and Carroll survived, 59-55. A few extra points:
– I’ve been waiting all season to see in person what Derrick Jones taking over a game looked like. I saw it Tuesday. He had Carroll’s only three field goals in the fourth quarter, stabilizing the Patriots as they absorbed Abington Heights’ best punches. And they weren’t just open shots that he happened to nail; they were shots that made him look like a man playing among boys. His third-chance hoop brought them to within 52-51, then he drove baseline and would not be stopped to put Carroll up and cleaned up a second-chance point with 49.1 seconds left to put Carroll ahead for good. Jones just put this team on his back and said, follow me to the quarters.
– Jones doesn’t grab the headlines without a fair amount of aid from the supporting cast. Where to start? The unsung hero of the second half was Ernest Aflakpui. In the first, he had one field goal attempt (an airball) and three rebounds. He went 2-for-4 from the field after halftime and got to the line eight times. He completely negated Abington Heights’ twin towers Evan Maxwell (seven points, four rebounds, fouled out with 5:31 left) and Tim Toro (eight points, four boards, fouled out with 49.1 left). And let’s be clear: Maxwell was a handful. The kid is burly 6-10, not pushover, plays-against-nobody-good 6-10. Aflkapui handled the assignment in the post excellently.
– I don’t always think about Austin Tilghman as the shutdown defender type. He certainly doesn’t fit the ideal I have in my head as a defensive specialist (think lean and quick-footed like Samir Taylor). But he put the clamps on Bucknell commit J.C. Show as well as can be expected. Tilghman had help, and Carroll often doubled Show in possession near midcourt, running the quick-handed steal machine that is Josh Sharkey out there. But the primary defender on Show was Tilghman, as much for his strength in repelling Show’s marauding drives to the hoops as his lack of foul trouble. Show finished with 17 points, but he was 2-for-5 from the line, 3-for-9 from three and only had seven points outside of one big run in the third quarter. That’s an effort to hang your hat on.
– Taylor was one of many coping with the copious amount of and erratic nature of the whistles early in the game. But he still did a great job on Show for most of the first half, as did David Beatty when he wasn’t catching shoulders in the chops. Beatty also hit a big 3-pointer in the first quarter, and Taylor chipped in six points, including two ice-water-in-your-veins free throws with to put Carroll up four with 22.1 seconds left.
– Toughness is an ineffable concept for a basketball team. But here’s one manifestation. With five seconds left and Carroll up three, Sharkey steps to the line for 2. He makes the first, misses the second and then Sharkey, the shortest guy on the court (and I know that because it doesn’t even matter who Abington Heights out there for that distinction) gets his own rebound and dribbles out the clock. That’s gutsy.
– If Carroll is going to shoot like they did in the first half Tuesday, they could win a state title. Paul Romanczuk corroborated afterward the notion that his team hadn’t even hit on all cylinders in the first half, despite leading the Comets by 12 points. The crux of that criticism was the dormancy of their low-post game, always the more reliable option. But the Patriots made four of seven attempts from 3-point land in the first half, including two from Joe Mostardi and one from Ryan Daly. That type of proficiency from deep makes them deadly.
– If you wonder why the Patriots are able to turn over good teams year to year – and no, angry guys I’ve seen at their last two games, it’s not recruiting – it’s because guys get minutes at such a young age. Nysier Brooks deputized ably when Jones and Aflakpui needed a rest in the first half. Daly executed a set out-of-bounds play in the first half for a corner three and was in the game in the fourth quarter, and Sharkey logged most of the fourth quarter, despite four second-half fouls, alongside Tilghman with Taylor on the bench with four. You can’t teach situations like that in practice or JV.