Teddy Bailey (@TheTeddyBailey)
No wins come easy in the Central League. Not against the best – or against the worst.
On Saturday night in the Kobe Bryant Gymnasium, two of the league’s elite put on quite the show – and Lower Merion’s Justin McFadden ended up stealing it.
McFadden, a Binghamton signee, poured in a career-high 27 points and was a force on the boards as the Aces (6-5, 5-2 Central) were able to slip past the Royals of Upper Darby (10-1, 5-2 Central) 65-63 in Ardmore, Pa.
“We got a crucial win in this league,” McFadden said. “We knew coming in that Upper Darby was atop of the standings and that they’re a great team. We needed this win on our home court.”
JaQuan Johnson scored nine of his 11 points in the first half to pace the Aces (6-5, 5-2 Central) early. Steve Pendleton added 11 and Corey Sherman and Jule Brown pitched in with eight points apiece.
McFadden was able to score in multiple ways on Saturday night. On the perimeter, in the paint, out on transition – you name it, he did it.
“The game was close and our coaches told me to attack the basket and I just took their words to the floor,” he said. “The game just kind of went that way, my number was called, and I stepped up.”
Quadir Rice led Upper Darby (10-2, 5-2 Central) in scoring with 16 points, while Demetrius Timmons scored 16 and Torey Green added 11 in the loss.
The Royals (10-2, 5-2 Central) did not lead after 32-30 in the second quarter, however Upper Darby was able to tie it up at 54 apiece with just over three minutes to go. McFadden’s and-one provided some separation before two Royal 3-pointers brought them right back. Quadir Rice was unable to convert on two potential game-tying free throws with 30 seconds remaining.
“I did enjoy it,” McFadden said of his and-one to put the Aces ahead. “It was a big play and a big momentum swing.”
The Royals were led by 6-foot-4 senior forward Quadir Rice, who finished with 16 points, all coming down low. Lower Merion had trouble in the early going with Rice in the paint – the senior was able to cash in on many open looks.
“We wanted to be strong of defense,” said McFadden. “The game came down to defensive rebounding and we did just enough to pull out the win.”
It was back-and-forth all night long. The Royals jumped out to a 14-7 lead and controlled the momentum until Johnson stemmed the tide with a big second quarter. Upper Darby hung around due to their athleticism, especially down low, but the Aces were able to do just enough.
“We just have to play with each other out there,” said McFadden. “When we shared the ball, we play better games and have more assists. Hopefully we can keep doing that.”
The Aces, who ran the Central League table in the past two years, have two league blemishes on their record. Four of their five losses have come within five points.
“We just need to start getting confidence and we can win close games,” Aces head coach Gregg Downer said following a win over Sanford on December 29th. “We have a lot of winnable games coming up on our schedule and hopefully we can string some wins together.”
He was right. Lower Merion is currently riding a four-game winning streak heading into league games against Garnet Valley and Springfield (D) this coming week. Two teams that are guaranteed to give the Aces a run for their money.
“There’s a lot of parity this year,” McFadden said. “The most I’ve ever seen. The last few years, teams have run the table, whether it was Upper Darby or us. It’s a lot of fun to see the Central League be such a competitive league. It’s different. I like it.”
With contests against perennial non-league forces in New Castle and Parkland, and Conestoga and Ridley, among others, remaming on the league schedule, the Aces will be even more battle tested come postseason play.
“When you go three years playing with the same guys and then they’re gone, it takes a while to build up some chemistry,” McFadden said. “The more games we play the better we will get as a team and we’re making that journey together.”
For the night, however, Lower Merion can walk away with another win added in the correct column, along with bigger targets on their back.
“Tonight? I can take a win away tonight, sir.”
Notes: Conestoga, at 6-1, is currently in first place in the Central League. Lower Merion, Ridley, Penncrest, and Upper Darby are all 5-2. Haverford High is 4-3.