Jeff McDevitt (@JeffMcDev)
Syracuse commit B.J. Johnson led Lower Merion with 19 points as his Aces got another decisive Central League victory, defeating Penncrest 70-42 in front of a raucous crowd at the Kobe Bryant Gymnasium.
The Aces talented backcourt of JaQuan Johnson and Raheem Hall blanketed Penncrest’s guards all game, leading to many turnovers out of the Aces active full-court trap defense. Hall was especially disruptive at the top of the zone, tallying six steals, all in the first half. Hall finished with 13 points and six assists to go along with those six steals, and Jaquan Johnson also had 13 points and four steals.Lower Merion (3-1, 3-0) had the lead throughout the entire game after Johnson drained a three-pointer from way behind the arc on the Aces first possession.
“He’s really savvy up there. He has those long arms and he likes playing that position, he inflicts a lot of damage up there,” Lower Merion coach Gregg Downer said about Hall being on the front line of the press.
“Its pretty fun, you have to force them to a corner, and once the ball is in the corner we trap,” Hall explained. “It’s a real scrappy type of trap.”
Penncrest (5-1, 3-1), who suffered their first loss of the season Tuesday night, was supposed to be the Aces toughest challenge in the Central League, as they may be the only team that has the size to compete with Lower Merion. But 6-foot-6 Kutztown commit Kalvin Simpson and 6-5 forward Rahmi Halaby were neutralized, held to just eight and four points respectively by Aces big man Yohanny Dalembert (eight points).
“(Penncrest) have a good ball club, we weren’t expecting a spread like that. Their two forwards are good. Anytime you have 6-7 kid and bring in a 6-6 kid off the bench it’s a luxury.” Downer said.
Lower Merion went undefeated in the Central League last year, never winning a game by fewer than 13 points. Downer knows his team has a target on their back going into each league game.
“We’re hungry. For many ballclubs we’re their Superbowl,” he said. “We just take it one quarter at a time. We respect all our league opponents, and step one on our journey is to win the league.”
Penncrest coach Mike Doyle said his team was “shellshocked by Lower Merion’s athleticism.” The Lions came into this contest with Lower Merion 5-0 on the season, but he knew Lower Merion was a different kind of beast to prepare for.
“It’s like preparing for a college basketball team. When I was at Arcadia, this team is more talented than my 15-12 Division III Arcadia team. There’s no weaknesses, there’s no holes,” Doyle said.
The game on the court was rivaled by the matchup of the stands. Penncrest brought a large student section of fans to this road game to swap chants with Lower Merion’s student section. Both student sections are coincidentally called “The Dawg Pound.” Both cheering sections gave this game the feel of City 6 game at the Palestra, with dueling student sections behind each basket.
“It’s crazy to have a gym this full for a game in December, normally something like this is reserved for March Madness.” Doyle said.
Lower Merion will try to continue its dominance of the Central League Thursday night against their rival in the same school district, Harriton. Penncrest, meanwhile, will travel to Berwyn to take on Conestoga.