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By Scott Huff
WEST NORRITON – Norristown already had IT – Plymouth Whitemarsh wanted IT – and PW got IT.
IT was a share of the Suburban One American Conference championship, and the Colonials (19-3, 13-1) rallied back from a 12-point first half deficit to defeat the host Eagles (17-5, 13-1), 53-48.
“It wouldn’t seem right not to have a championship banner hanging in our gym with the year 2009 on it,” said Plymouth Whitemarsh guard Joe Hughes who scored four important points at the end of the game. “We knew that we were going to have to work very hard. We knew that we had to match their intensity.
“Khalif (Wyatt) took over the game at the beginning,” added Hughes. “And we knew that if we could shut him down, we could shut down the rest of the team.”
Wyatt began the game with a stunning 14-point first period performance that included four three point plays – in three distinct fashions. Wyatt scored on an ‘old fashioned’ trey with a drive to the hoop and a free throw. Wyatt also fired in a pair of treys from behind the arc. And Wyatt was also fouled while shooting a 3-pointer and made all three attempts from the charity stripe.
“Sometimes when you start a game that hot it can be a curse as well as a blessing,” said Plymouth Whitemarsh coach Jim Donofrio. “Sometimes it is tough to recapture that magic.”
Wyatt scored all 14 Eagle points in the first period, and Norristown played its best team quarter in the second period to take a 34-22 halftime lead. Wyatt finished the half red-hot with 21 sizzling points.
“It is a game of runs,” said Norristown coach Michael Evans. “We had our run in the second quarter, and they had their run in the last quarter.
“We were out of sync in the second half,” added Evans. “We still are looking for someone to step up and help Khalif with the scoring.”
The biggest change to the Colonial defense came when PW assigned 6-foot, 5-inch sophomore Jaylen Bond to defend Wyatt.
“All I really wanted to do was deny him the ball,” said Bond. “You have to be aware of where he is all the time, and we had to work as a team to help out.”
Wyatt scored just four points in the third period, but the quarter closed with Norristown still holding a 41-32 lead.
“This is a team that really believes in each other,” said Bond. “We knew that if we could continue to play tough, we could come back and win the game.”
And Plymouth Whitemarsh did just that by outscoring Norristown 21-7 over the final eight minutes to tuck the game in the win column. And at the same time, win a co-championship.
“It was crazy out there tonight,” said PW guard Whis Grant who led the Colonials with 14 points. “We love playing in front of big crowds, and it makes you want to play harder.
“This team is a different team than the team that lost to Norristown (45-41) the first time,” added Grant. “We are less selfish with the basketball, and we’re playing at the right tempo.”
PW went on a 13-1 run in the fourth period to secure the win. Key points were scored by Grant, Hughes, Bond, C.J. Aiken, and Brandon Dixon during the game-changing stretch.
A clutch Hughes basket upped the Colonial lead to 51-48 with just 35 seconds left in the game. Norristown called timeout – and a sideline inbounds play to get Wyatt the ball at the top of the key – beyond the three-point line - with eight seconds left in regulation.
The ball left his hand in perfect rhythm, but the ball rimmed off and fell into the hands of Grant who was then fouled. Grant iced the game with a pair of free throws.
“It felt good when it left my hand,” said Wyatt who finished with a game-high 29 points. “You have to realize that you don’t make every shot.
“It was a very disappointing loss, because we had the game in our hands,” added Wyatt. “But we have to forget about it, get back to practice on Monday, and get ready for whoever we get to play in the playoffs.”
“I told the players before the game that if we want to take it to the next level – if we want to be champions – we are in a position to do that,” said Donofrio. “We were a young team – we’re not young anymore.”
“The game cost us an outright title, but it also had major implications on the seedings for districts,” said Evans. “Now we’ll have to wait and see if we get one home game in the playoffs, or maybe two.”
The season began with expectations that both Plymouth Whitemarsh and Norristown were the class of the SOL American Conference.
Somehow it is fitting that the Colonials and the Eagles will now share that title.
Plymouth Whitemarsh 10 12 10 21 - 53
Norristown 14 20 7 7 - 48
Plymouth Whitemarsh: C.J. Aiken 4 2-2 10; Joe Hughes 1 2-2 4; Brandon Dixon 3 0-1 6; Whis Grant 3 6-8 14; Jaylen Bond 4 4-6 12; Will Mascio 1 0-0 2; Damien Williams 1 1-2 3; Sam Pygatt 1 0-0 2. Totals 18 15-21 53.
3-point field goals – Grant (2)
Norristown: Sheldon Mayer 0 1-3 1; Khalif Wyatt 9 8-8 29; Chris Davis 1 0-0 3; Tom Smith 1 0-0 2; Lorenzo Christmas 1 3-4 5; Jerrell Gardner 3 2-2 8; Alan Yates 0 0-2 0. Totals 15 14-19 48.
3-point field goals – Wyatt (3), Davis.