Cheltenham and Pennridge were winners in Saturday’s opening round of the PIAA 6A Tournament. Cheltenham/Easton photos provided courtesy of John Gleeson. Check back for a gallery.
#1-2 CHELTENHAM 57, #11-4 EASTON 56
Talk about a wild ending.
Trailing by four points with 1:50 left on the game clock, the Panthers needed a few breaks, a sterling finish by sophomore Justin Moore and a defensive stop to keep their season alive. Throw in some mascot-related absurdity and there was a lot going on at Council Rock South on Saturday afternoon.
At the end of it all, it was Moore converting on the same play that had come so close to sending the Panthers to states last year as they moved on in the PIAA tournament for the first time since 2005.
"We were able to get this one but we have to play better,” Panthers coach Patrick Fleury said. “I’m challenging my guys, we started in August so August to now is a long season, but now we’re using everything in the tank. Right now, we have to buckle down.”
The Red Rovers, District 11's fourth-place team, play a similar style to Cheltenham with five guards or wings on the floor, looking to cause turnovers and push the pace on offense. In the first half, the Panthers were just a little better at it.
Nashawn Johnson came off Easton's bench to spark his team to a 12-12 tie after a quarter, but Sean Emfinger's steal led to an and-one dunk that kicked off a 7-0 Panthers’ run to open the second. Moore keyed a 6-0 run later in the quarter, and Saleem Payne's score off a rebound and push up the floor sent Cheltenham into the break up 27-20.
"We have to learn when we have leads we have to keep doing the same things we did to get them," Fleury said. "We sometimes fall victim to, when we have leads, we think we get mulligans. That's not reality, right now everybody is playing for their playoff lives, their schools and their communities so we have to look at every offensive possession as an opportunity."
After a good first half taking care of the ball, the Panthers did not replicate it after halftime. Seven turnovers in the third, plus 10 points from a suddenly scorching hot Aaron Clark for Easton allowed the Rovers to tie it 31-31 before Cheltenham made a quick run.
That didn't slow Easton and despite a three from Mike McClain and two from David Pope, the Panthers led just 42-40 at the end of the third. Easton closed on a 5-0 run, then kicked off the final stanza with five straight to go up 45-42.
"We have to clean that up," Fleury said. "We're a team full of guards. We can't turn the ball over more than three times in a quarter."
Easton wasn’t called for a team foul until the latter half of the final quarter and Cheltenham only scored three points in the first five minutes of the frame. The Panthers only trailed by five however and whittled the lead down to 54-50 on Brandon Scott's free throw with 1:52 to play.
The Rovers gave Cheltenham a window by missing the front end of consecutive one-and-one free throws and Moore was ready to take advantage.
“We came together on defense, they got to the foul line a couple times and luckily they missed, but when they had the ball, we wanted to put full-court pressure on them and caused a couple turnovers,” Moore said. “That got us back in the game.”
The sophomore scored 13 points and dished out eight assists, two of those helpers coming in the final 1:20 as he led the Panthers' rally. Moore found Jaelen McGlone under the basket with 1:20 left, the Panthers forced a travelling turnover, then Moore went right back to McGlone to tie the score 54-54.
Needing another stop, Cheltenham got it when McGlone and Moore combined for a steal that sent Moore speeding down the court and drawing a foul.
“They did a good job of getting the ball to the middle, and every time they did, they tried to drop it off backdoor,” Moore said. “I was just trying to make sure I was seeing everything going on. Jaelen actually got it and as soon as I grabbed it, I knew I had to go.”
He missed the first free throw but connected on the second to put Cheltenham back in front momentarily.
Johnson drew a foul with 13.4 on the clock, setting up a very bizarre sequence. After the Easton forward missed his first foul shot, the officials called a violation after Cheltenham's mascot had walked along the baseline trying to distract Johnson at the line.
"I didn’t even see it, I was so locked in on the shot, but I guess he just walked across and they gave him the shot again,” Fleury said. “That’s the rule and I’m not going to dispute that."
With a re-do, Johnson made the first. Cheltenham called a timeout between shots, where Fleury drew up a play that the Panthers knew well.
Last year at the end of the team's District 1 playback loss to Spring-Ford, Cheltenham ran the same play and got the shot they wanted only for it to rim out and leave them a point short of making states. Zahree Harrison, who took the shot last year, wasn't able to take it this time but he gave Moore a pep talk before the sophomore went back out on the floor.
"That’s another fuel to our fire that’s driving us to win a state championship,” Moore said. “We worked on it at practice over and over so it’s become second nature. In my head, I was a little nervous.”
Johnson's second free throw was true, staking the Red Rovers to a 56-55 lead as Cheltenham inbounded the ball and Moore brought it over halfcourt. He gave it up to McGlone, who faked a drive to shift the Easton zone before dishing back to Moore.
Using a quick step and a ball-fake, Moore slipped through two defenders before stopping and lofting a runner over the arms of a leaping Johnson.
"I was definitely telling myself to stay calm and stay poised,” Moore said. “I had to make sure I was keeping everybody together. In a game like that, we don’t want to lose. We’re trying to go all the way after losing to Methacton in the district championship so we’re going to keep fighting and never give up.”
The shot dropped and the Rovers called a timeout with 3.1 on the clock. Easton never got a shot off, with Cheltenham's defense preventing the District 11 squad from even crossing midcourt to secure the victory.
“Adversity is something that we will face,” Fleury said. “Our response to it is key and what our result will be. The more we turn to each other and not on each other or focus on any of the outside factors we can’t control, the better off we’ll be.”
McGlone’s 16 points led the Panthers. Brandon Scott added seven while Sean Emfinger and David Pope both had six.
“We again had contributions from guys off the bench and also the starting lineup,” Fleury said. “You have kids like Brandon Scott who consistently bring the creed and the style of play that we want. He had a very solid game for us. It was a good win.”
With the win, Cheltenham (25-4, 14-0 SOL) advances to face District 1 fifth-place finisher Lower Merion on Wednesday.
Cheltenham 12 15 15 15 – 57
Easton 12 8 20 16 – 56
Cheltenham (57) - Brandon Scott 2 3-4 7, Justin Moore 5 3-4 13, Jaelen McGlone 5 3-4 16, Sean Emfinger 3 0-1 6, David Pope 2 0-0 6, Saleem Payne 1 0-0 2, Mike McClain 2 2-2 7. Totals: 20 11-15 57
Easton (56) - Ryan Boylan 5 2-3 13, Asad Brown 0 1-3 1, Chris Hewey 3 0-0 8, Aaron Clark 5 4-4 17, Avery Hutchinson 1 1-2 4, Nashawn Johnson 5 3-3 13. Totals: 19 11-15 56
3-pointers: Cheltenham – McGlone 3, Pope 2, McClain; Easton – Clark 3, Hewey 2, Boylan, Hutchinson
#1-7 PENNRIDGE 49, #4-1 WILKES-BARRE 41
The Rams made it worth every minute of the 90-minute trip to Wilkes-Barre, rallying from five down late to finish strong and earn the win in Saturday’s state opener.
“I thought all seven boys that played were great – we played well as a team,” Pennridge coach Dean Behrens said. “They never got down.
“We’re really excited about the win tonight, the kids are really excited.”
The Rams – sparked by eight points from Christian Guldin and six more from Trent Fisher – took a 20-17 lead into halftime. That lead was erased in a third quarter that saw the Wolfpack outscore the visiting Rams 20-14 to go into the final quarter with a 37-34 lead.
“They hit a three to go up five with five minutes left, and the crowd really got fired up,” Behrens said. “Anthony Philips hit a two with an and-one, and that kind of stopped the momentum for them.”
The Rams’ got a defensive stop, and Paul Croyle gave his team momentum when he buried a clutch 3-pointer that gave the Rams a one-point lead with four minutes remaining.
“It hit every side of the rim, it sat there and boom – it goes in,” Behrens said.
The Rams – behind seven points from Colin Post – outscored the Wolfpack 15-4 in the final quarter.
“We changed it up defensively, which I thought changed the momentum,” Behrens said. “We put a little pressure on them – just slowed them down a little bit.”
Post’s 13 points led the Rams, and Trent Fisher scored 12. Luke Yoder scored six points.
“Our scoring was very spread out,” Behrens said. “I thought Christian (Guldin) and Colin (Post) did a good job handling their pressure. (Wilkes-Barre) can get up and defend.”
According to the Rams’ coach, playing the state game at Wilkes University was a memorable experience.
“It was a long ride, but it was an awesome atmosphere, playing on a college floor,” Behrens said. “It was really neat that Trent Fisher is going to go to Wilkes next year and play on this floor. We thought that was cool. Wilkes coach Izzi Metz was there. There were a lot of neat things.
“Obviously, Wilkes Area High School – those kids don’t live far from there. They had a 10-minute ride, we had an hour-and-a-half ride, but our kids handled it well.”
Pennridge (21-8, 9-3 SOL) will face District XII runner-up Roman Catholic in a second round game Wednesday. Roman defeated Coatesville 81-75 in Saturday’s opening round.
“It always seems to be a tough path for us,” Behrens said.
Pennridge 8-12-14-15 49
Wilkes-Barre 10-7-20-4 41
Pennridge (49) – Luke Yoder 3 0-0 6; Christian Guldin 2 5-6 10; Paul Croyle 1 0-0 3; Colin Post 6 1-5 13; Anthony Phillips 2 1-1 5; Trent Fisher 5 2-2 12; Totals 19 9-14 49.
Wilkes-Barre (41) – Saquan Porter 1 0-0 2; Cole Walker 5 2-2 12; Matt Egidio 2 0-0 5; Brandon Hall 7 2-5 16; Blake Masker 3 0-0 6; Totals 18 4-7 41.
3-point goals: Pennridge – Christian Guldin, Paul Croyle, Wilkes-Barre – Matt Egidio.
#12-3 ABRAHAM LINCOLN 50, #1-4 BENSALEM 48
A successful season came to a heartbreaking end for the Owls when Shaquil Bender – who had connected on just 4-of-11 from the foul line to that point – stepped to the line and buried a pair, giving the Railsplitters a 50-48 lead with five seconds remaining in regulation. A desperation shot by the Owls fell short.
“It was a tough way to go out,” Bensalem coach Ron Morris said. “We got a lot of contributions from players we normally don’t. It stings to lose the way we did, but as long as you leave everything on the floor, it is what it is.”
Bensalem trailed 16-11 after one quarter but rallied to go into halftime with a 28-26 advantage. The two teams were deadlocked heading into the final quarter, and the stage was set for the dramatic finish.
“We got in foul trouble early, and we were down a starter because Luke (Zeidler) got hurt in our Cheltenham game,” Morris said. “Justin Johnson got inserted into the starting lineup. He does a lot of the little things. He doesn’t score much, but even today, he defended their point guard, he defended their big guy that’s 6-7, he guarded one of their wings that’s 6-4. He rebounded. Overall, we gave everything we had.”
James Ashford led the Owls with 16 points, which included an 8-for-10 effort at the foul line. Sophomore Aaron Sanders added 13 points. Johnson contributed seven points while Jeremiah Alexander had six.
“James has been James all year,” Morris said of Ashford. “His heart and his extra gear were awesome today.
“Aaron continued to flourish. Obviously, he makes mistakes, but he’s a sophomore point guard who definitely played some huge minutes. Jeremiah was Jeremiah. Justin Johnson, who started in place of Luke, gave us huge minutes.”
The Owls will lose five seniors to graduation – Johnson, Alexander, Blaise Unger and Raj Singh.
“We are very young,” Morris said. “We were inexperienced coming into the year, and the way these guys have responded was just awesome.
“Success isn’t always gained by wins and losses. The way we’ve grown as a team was awesome to watch.
Bensalem (11-1 SOL) closed out its successful season with a 19-9 record and the SOL National title.
“We definitely set the bar high,” Morris said. “Bensalem basketball is going to get after it. One thing we preach is we’re going to give everything we have. We’re going to battle and compete.
“We’re just trying to get better as young men, be better today than we were yesterday. It was a tough way to go out, but listening to the guys in the locker room – it was a very emotional locker room. It was just awesome to hear them talk to each other. Just how much they’ve come together and grown as a team has been awesome all year.”
Abraham Lincoln 16-10-12-12 50
Bensalem 11-17-10-10 48
Abraham Lincoln (50) – Shaquil Bender 6 6-13 18; Chauncey Pressley 2 1-2 5; Malachi Owens 2 0-0 4; Tamir Powell 3 0-2 8; Sahmir Williamson 1 1-8 3; Elijah Jakeman 2 0-0 6; Anas Salha 0 3-3 3; Matthew Williams 1 0-0 2; Oluwdara Idowu 1 0-0 2; Totals 18 11-28 50.
Bensalem (48) – Travis Robinson 1 3-4 5; Justin Johnson 3 1-1 7; Aaron Sanders 4 4-7 13; Jeremiah Alexander 3 0-0 6; James Ashford 4 8-12 16; Trey Maddela – 0 1-2 1; Totals 15 17-26 48.
3-point goals: Bensalem – Aaron Sanders, Lincoln – Tamir Powell 2, Elijah Jakeman 2.
#3-1 WILSON 49, #1-10 NORTH PENN 39
The Knights remarkable late-season story came to an end in Saturday’s open round of the state tournament but not before they threw a bit of a scare into the District 3 champions, rallying from nine down late in the third quarter to make it a three-point game midway through the fourth (35-32).
Wilson responded with a 14-7 run to close out the game.
Josh Jones scored 15 – which included 6-of-7 at the foul line – to lead the Knights. Kolby Barrow buried three 3-pointers and finished with nine points. Matt Swanson added seven.
North Penn (5-7 SOL) closed out its season with a 12-16 record.
North Penn 7-11-11-10 39
Wilson 15-4-14-16 49
North Penn (39) – Kolby Barrow 3 0-0 9; Josh Jones 3 6-7 15; Joe Larkins 1 1-2 4; Rob Carangi 2 0-0 4; Matt Swanson 3 1-1 7; Totals 12 8-10 39.
Wilson (49) – Kieran Borian 2 2-2 8; Stevie Mitchell 5 6-6 17; Mykel Huffman 4 0-0 8; Avanti Lockhart 4 0-0 9; Cameron Jones 1 0-0 2; Josh Valley 0 1-2 1; Evin Timochenko 1 2-4 4; Totals 17 11-14 49.
3-point goals: NP – Kolby Barrow 3, Josh Jones, Joe Larkins, Wilson – Kieran Borian, Stevie Mitchell, Avanti Lockhart.