Boys Basketball: William Penn just another challenge for serial underdog Penncrest

The symmetry isn’t exactly in Penncrest’s favor.

For a second straight season, District 3 champion William Penn York awaits a District One 10th seed Cinderella story at Dallastown High in the first round of the PIAA Class AAAA Tournament. Last year, that didn’t end well for Haverford.

Penncrest’s hope is that this season will be different when the teams square off Saturday at 2:30 p.m.

Drew Hanna and his Penncrest teammates have saved their season many times over this postseason, leaving them confident ahead of their trip to play William Penn in Saturday's PIAA Class AAAA opener. (Times Staff/TOM KELLY IV)

Drew Hanna and his Penncrest teammates have saved their season many times over this postseason, leaving them confident ahead of their trip to play William Penn in Saturday’s PIAA Class AAAA opener. (Times Staff/TOM KELLY IV)

The Lions’ confidence is undeniably high after navigating from the 28th seed in districts to an unlikely states berth, leaving plenty of adversity in its wake. They can expect a little more of that from William Penn (25-4).

The Bearcats can score. Like a lot. Eleven times this season, they’ve scored 80 or more points. In nine games, they’ve gotten to 90 points, topping out at 124 against a (albeit 3-18) Maurice J. Moyer Academic Institute from Delaware. (That’s the team that Marple Newtown hung 85 on and Chichester racked up 92 against.) For the season, they average 75 points per game. The Bearcats’ second-lowest offensive output of the season came in a 49-48, buzzer-beating loss to Chester in December.

In film study, what coach Mike Doyle sees more than anything isn’t an emphasis on the individual but rather a collective approach to rapidly turn defense into offense. While that penchant for getting up the court quickly produces the imperative for Penncrest to get back as quickly on defense, it also opens up one-on-one opportunities on the offensive glass.

As much a symptom as a product of all the offense are five players averaging nine or more points per game. The leader of the parade is senior swingman Jahaire Wilson, who is averaging 18 points and 11.7 rebounds per game. That daunting defensive assignment will likely fall primarily on the shoulders of junior AJ Taylor.

Brandon Smallwood is another tough post presence, standing 6-5 and averaging 13 points per game, while D’Montie Shaw provides a veteran option up front.

The backcourt is led by a trip of juniors, though they have experience and talent beyond their years. Montrel Morgan leads the way at 10.9 points and four assists per game, followed by Trey Shifflett (9.9 ppg) and 6-6 Kristopher Johnson (9.1 ppg).

That sounds like a lot of matchup nightmares for a conventional team with three guards under 6-2, a 6-5 power forward and a 6-8 center. It’s going to take a lot of smart help defense on the part of the Lions and likely a lot of different man-to-man, press and zone looks to prevent York from getting into a rhythm. Among the big keys is guarding against Morgan and Shifflett getting in the paint and dishing off at will, and with the Bearcats’ ability to score in bunches, this isn’t a team you want to fall behind to by more than a couple of possessions.

The bright side for Penncrest isn’t just the fact that they have been through this drill before, backs against the wall away from home. It’s the fourth elimination game the Lions have played, and that’s not even counting some do-or-die wins at the end of the regular season just to get to the playoffs. They’ve won a bunch of different ways, whether it’s by Mike Doyle’s heady plays against Penn Wood, Nolan Carroll’s touch from 3-point land against Springfield or Taylor’s consistency in the paint, and they’re a veteran squad that won’t be afraid of a tough matchup.

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