Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
Lower Merion coach Gregg Downer wanted to see his team spread some scoring around, and they delivered against Strath Haven.
Raheem Hall and Jaquan Johnson had 19 points apiece for the Aces, who won their second-straight league game, 79-51, over the Panthers. Yohanny Dalembert added 10 points and Jule Brown eight as Lower Merion won handily despite a quiet night from star wing B.J. Johnson.
“I thought we did some good things–22 assists, which is something we’ve been working on, trying to share the ball and spread it around a little bit,” Downer said. “One of our goals coming in was to get several guys into double figures. I think we had three or four guys in double figures so that was good.”
Lower Merion (2-1, 2-0 Central League) fell behind 4-0 early but took the lead for good on a Hall 3-pointer that made it 13-11 midway through the opening period, after which the home team was leading 23-16. They blew it open in the second quarter, ending the half on an 18-2 run that featured five assists on eight buckets to take a 49-25 lead into the break.
Johnson, a 5-10 junior who’s the Aces’ starting point guard, set a new career high in scoring. His night started well, hitting a 3-pointer and drawing the foul; he scored nine points in the second quarter and had 15 at halftime.
“He was doing some good things in transition,” Down said, “so it was good to see other players contributing offensively when B.J. was having an off night.”
Johnson, who’s headed to Syracuse next year, had just five points as he deferred to his starting backcourt to carry the scoring load.
This was Hall’s first double-digit effort of the season after scoring eight points in both of Lower Merion’s previous game. The 6-3 senior also had 15 points in the first half, but none of the Aces’ starters got much playing time in the second half; the reserves played the final 10 minutes of the game after Hall’s final bucket made it 60-33.
“We often think he’s kind of the engine of the team and he’s a very important piece to our puzzle,” Downer said. “He played pretty well tonight, which was good to see. He’s great in transition, he’s a good defender, he’s an all-around very good player.”
“Just trying to play with my teammates, play a team game,” Hall told CoBL about his best performance of the season. “I think we’re still building chemistry but I think we’re gonna keep growing as the season goes. I think we’re going to get better every day.”
Hall cited a potential college list with a mixture of D-Is and D-IIs, including “Howard, NJIT, Millersville, Wilmington, (and) Northwestern State of Louisiana,” and said he was planning on making his decision after his senior year; if he plays like he did on Friday, he could find himself with another offer or two by the time the season wraps up; he’s working on his jumper to make himself more attractive to colleges.
“Trying to shoot off the dribble when I’m coming down hill or on a handoff, being able to stop-and-pop and working on my three ball,” he said. “I can play the point but I’m primarily a two.”
Strath Haven (2-2, 1-1) had a nice game from 6-3 senior wing John Fender, who scored 17 points and added eight rebounds as the only member of the Panthers who scored in double figures.
Lower Merion is in action next Tuesday when they host Penncrest; Strath Haven takes on Ridley on the same day.