Lee Kunkel (@Kunkel5)
Coming off a state title run just last season, the seventh is school history, the Aces of Lower Merion were determined to get back to the state tournament for the eighth time in ten seasons. Senior Justin McFadden made sure that dream became reality.
The ninth seeded Central League champs were too much for the eighth seeded Del-Val champs, Penn Wood, on Tuesday night as Lower Merion walked away with a hard-earned 58-43 win.
Only up by four at the half, 29-25, Lower Merion turned to the senior McFadden out of the break to turn the tide, and the Binghamton commit did not disappoint.
McFadden, who finished with a game high 24 points, hit back-to-back-to-back three pointers, and even had a Dwight Howard-esque block on the other end to ignite Lower Merion to a 38-28 lead and eventually a 44-36 lead at the end of the third. They never looked back, as Penn Woods was unable to get the lead back under eight points the rest of the contest.
“I was feeling a little sick during the halftime break, but I just needed to get up a couple of shots during the halftime warmup and I was feeling good then. I hit a couple of three’s when we needed it,” McFadden said.
Though he did not make a field goal in the final frame, McFadden also closed the game out in the fourth, making six of his eight free throw attempts down the stretch.
Lower Merion really worked the game clock, and made Penn Wood chase the entire final quarter. They also locked down on the defensive end, holding the Patriots to just seven points in the last frame.
McFadden, along with his teammates, did a great job of limiting the second chance opportunities for the Patriots in the second half, particularly in the third quarter. Penn Wood used a few offensive rebounds early in the game to stick around.
“We said it was going to be a fight, we made adjustments and we battled down there and came up with some big time rebounds,” McFadden said.
His coach, Gregg Downer, certainly took notice to the seniors strong play.
“He’s our heart and soul, and one of my all time favorites,” Dower said. “He’s been carrying us for a long time here and it’s great to see him have a little bit of a breakout performance.”
While McFadden was the star of the show, it was the strong shooting of junior Corey Sherman that helped the Aces take the lead into the break.
Trailing by one after the first quarter, Sherman found his stroke hitting three three-pointers in the second frame giving him a team high nine points in the first half. He finished with 12, but his impact was much more then that.
“When he [Sherman] is making shots, we’re really hard to stop. He opens up so much for us offensively,” McFadden said. “Once he made those first few shots in the second quarter, they were paying more attention to him and that really opened up driving lanes.”
At the start of the game, both teams used a fullcourt press and really pushed the tempo up-and-down. “They really pressure you and I thought we would have to play fast and attack the rim and really try to get to the foul line,” Dower said.
Once that pace slowed down and things became more about execution, Penn Wood didn’t have the horses to keep up. That was magnified with an off night from star guard Malik Jackson. The junior had his flashes, but finished with only 15 points. On the season he averages over 21 per-game.
He simply didn’t have the help needed for Penn Wood to keep pace, as not one player for the Patriots outside of Jackson scored over three points in the second half.
With the win, Lower Merion qualifies for the state tournament, and moves on the the quarterfinals of the District playoffs to take on Conestoga, a team they know pretty well by now.
“We take things one step at a time. We got the state bid, that was our focus tonight. Now it’s on to the next game which is Conestoga, and we will be ready to take them on for the third time,” McFadden said. “We know they’re a talented team, and we will be ready to battle for 32 minutes, just like we were tonight.”
While the Aces now advance into the quarterfinals of the AAAA District 1 playoffs, and into the states, Penn Wood will have to enter the play-in round for the final two AAAA state tournament berths from District 1.