Head Coach Gregg Downer dries off after a celebratory post-game Gatorade drenching by his players
By Steve Mandelbaum
Roughly 60 years ago, legendary Aces coach Bill “Andy” Anderson departed his post at Lower Merion High School with 346 career victories and a record of achievement that many thought would never be matched. Anderson helped turn Lower Merion into a basketball powerhouse and built a foundation for excellence that has come to define Aces Nation. His legacy will live on forever. On Tuesday night, the coach who has come to define the most recent golden era of Aces basketball surpassed Anderson’s win mark. Gregg Downer, who began his career in 1990 as a fresh-faced, 26-year old rookie head coach, recorded his 347th victory in grand fashion -- a 74-41 thrashing of Radnor. Eighteen years after taking over the reins, Downer is now the standard-bearer for a proud program with a 100+ year tradition of excellence.
It was only fair that Downer’s feat could be completed in front of a home crowd at Bala Cynwyd Middle School, allowing for the Lower Merion community to share this remarkable moment with an extraordinary coach and an extraordinary man.
The Aces put on an impeccable performance against Radnor, allowing Downer to reach the milestone in comfortable fashion. Lower Merion came out the gates strong and fast, using an impressive transition game to overwhelm the Raiders. The Aces took a 34-21 lead into the half and extended their margin in every quarter. With two minutes left in the fourth frame and with the game in hand, members of the Dawg Pound (who had been, as usual, on their feet the entire game) tore off their top layers to reveal custom-made “Downer/347” t-shirts, eliciting a huge smile from Coach Downer, who raised his fist in the air in acknowledgement of the Lower Merion faithful. Fans and players cascaded onto the court to celebrate an historic moment with “their coach.” In a post-game ceremony in the school cafeteria with fans, friends and family looking on, senior captains Eric Stahler and Greg Robbins performed the Gatorade-treatment on Downer, drenching him from head to toe – and sloshing a “347-win” cake as well. (The cake was later wiped down and devoured by the players. Thankfully, the same couldn’t be said for Coach D.)
The Aces extended their win streak to four, and captured their eighth victory in the last nine games. Robbins led all scorers with 24 points, doing much of his damage on the inside. Senior Harley Williamson scored 12 points, grabbed ten rebounds and had four blocked shots. Williamson and Robbins connected for the play-of-the-game in the middle of the second quarter: Robbins drove the lane, spotted a streaking Williamson and lofted a perfect pass to his teammate that was caught in stride for a ferocious one-handed slam. The play brought both the Lower Merion and Radnor fans to their feet. The Robbins and Williamson connection struck again for another alley-oop in the third quarter – this time, Williamson finished the play with an acrobatic layup. Junior J.J. Hoffstein had a sparkling performance off the bench, scoring a career high 13 points, while going 3-3 from beyond the arc. Senior guard Marquise Hall helped ignite a 22-4 third quarter run with lockdown defense and two buckets in transition.
It was a team performance, a defense-oriented performance, an unselfish performance from a group of players that seem to be finding a rhythm. It was, ultimately, a Gregg Downer kind of night.
Lower Merion will travel to face cross-district rival Harriton on Thursday evening. Gametime is 7:30 PM.
Lower Merion: 17 17 22 18 – 74
Radnor: 7 14 9 11 – 41
LM: Greg Robbins 24, J.J. Hoffstein 13, Harley Williamson 12, Alon Seltzer 7, Marquise Hall 4, Mike Block 3, David Ancona-Cole 2, Nick Bibbs 2, Matt McKenna 2, Joe Moran 2, Vince Weldon 2.
Radnor: Jonathan Coleman 10, Corey Duson 5, Martin Howard 5, Kyle Hammonds 5, Joseph Gangl 4, Andrew Perrot 3, Joseph Baek 2, Connor Walsh 2, Peter Wallace 2, Derrick Adger 2, Brendan Connor 1.