Eagles Win Key SOL Showdown

By Scott Huff 

PLYMOUTH MEETING – Norristown was out to prove it wasn’t just last year’s news.
The Eagles - who played in the PIAA Quad-A state final last season against Chester – were considered by some to be the underdog in Wednesday night’s Suburban One League American Conference showdown with talented Plymouth-Whitemarsh.
“All we heard about all season was PW, PW,” said Norristown senior guard Khalif Wyatt moments after the Eagles (8-2, 5-0) rallied for a 45-41 win over the host Colonials (8-3, 4-1). “They had C.J. (Aiken) and Jaylen (Bond) playing for them this year, and we felt a little disrespected.
“Playing against them we knew we were going to have to work hard,” added Wyatt who scored a game-high 19 points. “We knew that defense was going to win this game.”
Norristown used suffocating full court pressure to generate a staggering 21 Colonial turnovers. And for most of the game, PW matched the Eagles’ defensive intensity as the Colonials created 17 NAHS turnovers.
“We were a little frantic at times on offense,” said Norristown head coach Michael Evans – back from a four-game leave of absence. “But we got back to playing Norristown basketball at the end of the game.”
Plymouth-Whitemarsh led 34-31 with four minutes, 53 seconds left in the game. It would be the final lead of the game for the Colonials.
Wyatt fired in a trey with 4:42 left in the period to start the rally and tie the score, but the triggerman for Norristown down the stretch was senior swingman Lorenzo Christmas.
Christmas –who scored just two points prior to his fourth period heroics – drilled in an open three-pointer to give the Eagles the lead for good at 37-34.
Junior point guard Sheldon Mayer added to the lead with a gorgeous floater down the lane – and after Aiken knocked home a pair of free throws for PW – Christmas got open along the baseline and scored on a nifty pass from Wyatt.
With Norristown leading 41-37, Wyatt came up with a critical blocked shot on the defensive end. The gifted Temple-bound guard recovered the ball and fired a length of the court pass to Christmas who thundered home a dunk to ice the game.
“The crowd really got into the game,” said Christmas who scored nine points – seven in the last two and one-half minutes. “And sometimes you start to play off adrenalin.
“This was a huge game for us,” continued Christmas. “PW was ranked higher than us, and we didn’t want to go home to Norristown a loser.”
“This game should do a lot for our confidence,” said Evans. “To be able to win a game like this on the road, against a rival like Plymouth-Whitemarsh, is huge.
“Khalif made some plays, but it was nice to see some kids step up and make plays when we needed them,” added Evans. “Lorenzo and Sheldon played very well at the end of the game.”
The game was to be decided by the speed of Norristown matched up against the size of Plymouth-Whitemarsh.
Aiken – a 6-foot, 9-inch junior who was greeted in the locker room after the game by St. Joseph University coach Phil Martelli – dominated the paint with four monster dunks and a team-high 16 points.
“Everyone was talking all week about what a big game Norristown was going to be,” said Aiken – who played his scholastic basketball last season at La Salle High School.  “And it got me psyched to play well.”
The game had a playoff atmosphere as the stands in the CES Gymnasium were filled to capacity. And the rabid fans in attendance matched the intensity of the players on the court.
“The game was so fast, and the noise was so loud, that it takes the coach out of the game,” said Plymouth Whitemarsh head coach Jim Donofrio. “We blinked a little more than I would have wanted, but we will correct what we did wrong.
“I keep reminding myself that the season is a marathon,” added Donofrio. “Norristown is a team that was one basket away from a state title last year – and we just haven’t been where they have been.
“This team has been in a position to win every game,” continued Donofrio. “This was another great experience for our players – we’re young – and I have to be patient.”
Plymouth-Whitemarsh may still become this year’s news. But for right now, Norristown is still earning the headlines.
Norristown            14      9      3      19    -       45
Plymouth-Whitemarsh 14     8      9      10    -       41
Norristown: Jarrell Gardner 2 1-2 5; James Ramsey 2 3-4 7; Khalif Wyatt 7 3-4 19; Lorenzo Christmas 4 0-0 9; Sheldon Mayer 2 0-0 5. Totals 17 7-10 45.                        3-point field goals – Wyatt (2), Christmas, Mayer.
Plymouth-Whitemash: Jaylen Bond 3 1-2 7; Joe Hughes 1 0-0 3; Brandon Dixon 2 0-0 4; C.J. Aiken 7 2-2 16; Whis Grant 1 1-3 4; Will Mascio 1 1-2 3; Sam Pygatt 2 0-0 4. Totals 17 5-9 41.
        3-point field goals – Hughes, Grant.