Jeff Neiburg (@Jeff_Neiburg)
Abington coach Charles Grasty needed to make a change at halftime.
His team was getting dominated on the glass, getting out hustled and getting beat 28-22.
What the Galloping Ghosts did was switch from a man-to-man defense to a 2-3 zone defense, and it certainly paid dividends.
Abington held York to just one field goal in the third quarter, allowing the Galloping Ghosts to take a lead and cruise to a 59-53 victory down the stretch in the PIAA Class AAAA round of 16 at Coatesville High School.
The altering of defense enabled Abington to slow down a York team that feeds off of an uptempo style. Once Abington got York to play at their pace, their offense got rolling.
“We definitely played their style in the first half,” Grasty said. “They controlled the tempo. We pretty much played to their speed, and that’s not what we wanted to do. We wanted to settle down, spread them out a little bit, get some passes around the perimeter and then attack the basket. I thought in the third quarter we did that very well. We were able to get some layups.”
Most of those layups in the second half came from the combination of juniors Matt Penecale and Amir Hinton. Penecale scored 14 of his game-high 21 points in the final 11 minutes while Hinton scored 12 of his 20 points in the same time frame.
The Bearcats got the first bucket of the second half on a layup from junior forward Jahaire Wilson, who finished with team-high 19 points and a game-high 11 rebounds. After that make, York wouldn’t convert on another FG attempt until the 5:21 mark of the fourth quarter. The drought lasted exactly nine minutes and the Bearcats mustered just three free throws during the dry spell.
Speaking of free throws, York shot a miserable 14 of 29 from the charity stripe.
“We figured in the beginning, we played man and it wasn’t really working because they’re long,” Hinton said. “We played the 2-3 and forced them to shoot more and get their big man (Wilson) out of the lane and that seemed to work.”
“Our zone really affected their shots,” Grasty said. “We wanted to take that baseline cut away. We kind of trapped the corners. They were kind of out of their flow once we adjusted to that and took some shots that we actually wanted them to take.”
While the Bearcats went cold, Abington really settled down and finally started to get open looks on the offensive end, something Grasty went over in the locker room.
“We just put an emphasis on playing smart, not playing their pace out of control. We were able to rebound well and get good shots on the break. It paid off in the fourth quarter. We were able to get stops down low.”
A nine minute stretch without a made-FG certainly yields to a lot of missed York shots. Abington did a much better job on the glass. After allowing nine offensive rebounds in the first quarter and 13 in the first half, York finished with 17.
“We didn’t make an adjustment or anything at halftime,” Grasty said. “We just told them that you got to keep them off the glass. Simple as that. There’s nothing that we could draw up to keep guys off the glass, you just got to want to box them out. If you want to advance, that’s what it takes.”
Abington led by 10 points with 3:42 left in the fourth quarter before York made a late push to get within three at 47-44. But back to back buckets from Hinton and junior Anthony Lee got the ‘Ghosts back up seven with two minutes to play.
After a Penecale layup stretched the lead to eight with 1:40 remaining, York senior Jeshaun Maddox nailed a 3-pointer to make the score 53-48.
But Hinton and Penecale made sure that the Bearcats never got any closer, as Penecale again got to the rack to put Abington up seven. Then Hinton went 4-for-4 from the line to put the game away.
While Penecale and Hinton were the only ‘Ghosts in double figures, Abington got solid efforts from Lee (7pts, 9reb), senior Khari Jefferson (9pts, 3rebs) and senior forward Lazaro Mackrides (2pts, 10rebs).
Abington moves on to the quarterfinals to take on Martin Luther King on Saturday. The Cougars stormed past Pennsbury, 65-43 on Wednesday.
The Galloping Ghosts are in a very unfamiliar place, having not won a state playoff game in the last 26 years prior to this season. It’s something the kids are surely relishing.
“We just enjoy the experience,” Penecale said. “You don’t know how many times you’re going to get here. You also just focus one game at a time and you got to come in expecting to win each game. We have a good team and we want to do something special this year.”
“It feels good to know that we’re the first team in [a while] to come this far,” Hinton said. We’re enjoying every moment and we plan on winning everything.”
Martin Luther King will present a big challenge to Abington. The Cougars now seem to be one of the favorites to win the whole tournament next weekend.
The Galloping Ghosts are just trying to take things one game and one day at a time.
“We don’t look ahead of any game,” Penecale said. “We game planned for York. I don’t know too much about MLK right now, I’m sure tomorrow we’ll watch some film and get ready for them.”