Jeff McDevitt (@JeffMcDev)
Midway through the third quarter, a Rashann London layup pulled the heavily-favored Roman Catholic Cahillites within one of Lower Merion.
That’s when JaQuan Johnson decided to takeover.
The senior guard ended the third quarter on a personal 7-0 run to stretch the Aces lead back to eight, and Roman would never get any closer. The defending AAAA state champs pull the major upset and got one step closer to defending their crown with a 64-52 win over the top seed from District 12 Roman Catholic.
After scoring a bucket early in the first quarter, Johnson was held scoreless other than a free-throw to start the half. As the Cahillites seemed to be making their push to take over the game, it was the speedy lefty who took charge, blowing by whatever Cahillite defender tried to corral him and finishing over every helping big.
The crowd erupted after every layup and rained down chants of “Quan-Nie! Quan-Nie” for Johnson who finished with a game-high 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting.
“I just really came into this game and I really didn’t want to lose. I didn’t want my season to end. When they cut the lead to one I felt like everyone else was playing well and I wasn’t scoring enough. At the end of the third quarter I got a lucky and-one, I have no idea how that went in,” Johnson said.
The Aces (21-7) are no stranger to pulling upsets in the state tournament. It always seems Gregg Downer’s teams rise to the occasion and defeat teams that might seem more talented or more athletic.
So what was the secret behind slowing down the Cahillites powerful offensive attack? It all came down to preparation.
“I want to give that one the coaching staff. They prepared us really well. We knew every guy’s game and how they play. We were ready,” Johnson said. “Roman likes to run a lot so we had to slow them down. They also have a great shooter in Holbrook, so we had to get out on him. We had to make sure he didn’t score too many points. We knew the offensive was going to come.”
The Holbrook he speaks of is Roman junior wing Gemil Holbrook, who, just as the game plan called for, was held scoreless after leading Roman in scoring their last two games.
Binghamton-commit and newly -crowned Central League MVP Justin McFadden was a warrior down low with 14 points and seven boards, going up against the bigger Manny Taylor and TreVaughn Wilkerson, who returned from injury. Jule Brown and Corey Sherman both were in double figures with 11 and 10 apiece for the banged up Aces, who were without Nick Jones. Also injured? Johnson, who needed a cortisone shot in an injured shoulder Monday to play tonight.
The 5-10 guard said he has been talking to Stony Brook and Quinnipiac, but does not have any offers as of now. He is hopeful that he can be a college basketball player next year like Roman’s senior backcourt of Shep Garner (Penn State) and London (Drexel). Roman’s senior duo combined for 36 points on the evening and single-handedly pulled Chris McNesby’s squad back into it. London (19 points) scored eight in the third quarter, while Garner (17) scored eight in frantic final frame.
The Cahilites, who shot 19-for-56 overall (33%) on Tuesday night, lost in the Catholic League championship game and were bounced by Norristown in the first round of states last year, so the disappointment in another early exit was evident.
“We thought that this was our year to win a state championship, but coach Gregg Downer is a great coach and they did a great job today,” Garner said. “It’s rough. You always want to win that state championships and you don’t. It’s tough.”
An interesting subplot was the friendship via a Chester-connection that Johnson and Garner have. Garner is a Chester native while Johnson grew up in Chester, and they are still best friends to this day.
“We’ve been best friends since we were nine years old. We played together in the Biddy League and we made the all-star team so we traveled a lot together. This past summer we played on Team Final together, I sleep at his house a lot he sleeps at mine a lot, it’s a best friend relationship,” Johnson said.
“It’s always fun going up against a childhood friend. That’s my brother. We’ve been through a lot together and I am happy for him,” Garner said.
After the game, Lower Merion’s trainer wrapped up Johnson’s shoulder in ice. He said the cortisone shot was wearing off after the game and the pain was beginning to come back. He’ll need a healthy shoulder when the Aces face another Catholic League foe in La Salle on Saturday afternoon in the state quarters at a site and time yet to be named.
“When I’m in the zone, I can’t really feel it,” Johnson said about the shoulder.
Tonight, he certainly was.