Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
After the Hill School’s Pennsylvania Independent Schools (PAISAA) semifinal win over the Phelps School on Friday night, Hill coach Seth Eilberg said that to beat Westtown in the final, his team would need to make shots.
Boy, did they ever.
Led by sophomore Bryce Allen, the Blues came out hitting nearly everything they threw up, jumping out to a big early lead and holding on to down top seeded Westtown, 56-50, and take home the school’s first-ever PAISAA title.
Allen, a 5-foot-10 sophomore guard, hit his first four shot attempts, all from beyond the arc, to help Hill jump out to a 10-point advantage after the first quarter.
“I was feeling it in warmups, and this is a big game and I knew I had to step up,” Allen said. “Once the first one went in, I knew I was going.”
The son of former Wofford guard and current SUNY-Cobleskill head coach Matt Allen, Bryce is a North Carolina native who now calls the New York town home when he’s not at the Hill School.
He found his way to the Pottstown, Pa. boarding school through camps he used to attend while his dad was the associate head coach at Lehigh. In two years, he’s been named All-Mid Atlantic Prep League twice, was named the MVP of the Danny McBride tournament at Haverford early in the year and now helped bring his school its first PAISAA championship after reaching the finals in both 2007 and ‘08.
And yet, afterwards, he was a calm, cool and collected as he was when he was making those big early buckets.
“I think as a point guard you need to keep your composure and keep control and lead your team,” he said, but a quick grin showed there was some energy waiting to burst through. “Just kinda holding it in right now until we get into the locker room.”
In large part due to sharp outside shooting, the advantage was 16, stunning a packed house at Malvern Prep largely expecting to see a loaded Westtown squad win its second title in three years. And it wasn’t just Allen who was hitting shots.
After Allen scored his team’s first 12 points, Matt Foltz hit the next two buckets–one 3-pointer, one 2-pointer–before Sam Norton followed with five points on two shots of his own. The second quarter was all John Carroll, a 6-foot-7 senior forward from Ireland, who scored his first seven points of the contest as the Blues limited the Moose to just two points in the second stanza.
“We’re very versatile,” said Carroll, who’ll have to pick a college from amongst Columbia, Fairleigh-Dickinson, Hartford and others in the next few weeks. “We can go a lot of ways and everybody can shoot, too, which is a good thing.”
Though Carroll led players with 16 points and 11 rebounds, his second impressive performance in two nights after going for 30 and nine against Phelps, perhaps his most important contribution was on the defensive end.
The Moose feature 7-foot-1 junior center Georgios Papagiannis, a Greek native widely seen as a future pick in the NBA Draft. One night after going for 23 points against Marquette-bound Satchel Pierce, clearly getting the better of the future Big East forward, Papagiannis was held to just five points and five rebounds in the title game.
“I just wanted to make sure he took tough shots and [that] nothing was easy for him,” Carroll said. “Even if I couldn’t get the rebound, make sure he couldn’t by boxing him out and making sure my teammates got it.”
Besides Carroll and Allen, who finished with 14 points, junior small forward James Fives added nine points and four rebounds while Foltz and Norton finished with seven apiece.
Though Hill held a double-digit lead for the majority of the game, things got a little dicey for the Blues near the end. An 11-0 run by Westtown, led by Maryland signee Jared Nickens, had the lead down to six with 6:43 to play, and that was the advantage for the Hill School after a layup by Westtown point guard Jair Bolden with 28 seconds remaining.
Bolden and Nickens each finished with 15 points as the only Moose in double figures.
Then Hill got whistled for a five-second call, one of two in the final 30 seconds in the game; the second resulted in a pair of Habib N’Garnim free-throws after the Westtown senior was fouled on a 3-point attempt. But Carroll, who’s been dealing with thigh and knee injuries, grabbed the rebound on the third and made a pair from the line of his own with 6.5 seconds left, sealing the win for the Blues.
“It was great, we earned it, anyway. We had a tough game yesterday, came from behind by eight points, and this was a tougher game than it looked,” he said. “I’m relieved, my leg’s hurting so bad, but I’m relieved that we got it done.”