Matt McKenna '10 was named MVP of the Kobe Bryant Classic
By Steve Mandelbaum
There’s much work yet to be done, but the 2008-09 Aces just might be onto something. In one of the most remarkable upsets in recent team history, Lower Merion stunned PA #3 Penn Wood 47-44 on Saturday night at the Kobe Bryant Classic and sent a clear message to the rest of District 1: approach with caution. With the game’s final seconds ticking off the clock, sophomore Matt McKenna launched a three-pointer from the top of the arc that hit nothing but net, capping an epic night that will be remembered for years to come.
Coming off of a stirring comeback win against Upper Darby on Wednesday and then a rout of Garnet Valley only a day before, Aces fans might have been almost content with a dignified loss on Saturday and evidence of continued growth during a solid late season run. Seemingly undersized and overmatched, the Aces were heavy underdogs against a 15-1 Patriots team loaded with Division 1 prospects. Most pundits predicted a double-digit loss for Lower Merion.
Thankfully, the pundits don’t wear Maroon & White.
Lower Merion came out strong in a fast-paced first quarter. For the first four minutes, the Aces traded baskets with Penn Wood. But the Patriots exploded on a 14-4 run and took a 25-15 lead into the second frame. The Aces rebounded in the second quarter and pulled within one by halftime thanks to sterling work on the defensive glass, long possessions and timely baskets. The third quarter was nip-and-tuck; the Aces took a two-point lead -- their first lead of the half -- mid-way through the period on an Oliver Cohen three-pointer, but entered the fourth down by two.
At the beginning of the final quarter, in an unconventional move, Penn Wood decided to hold the ball at midcourt, which turned out to be a key decision. The Aces, content to play a single-possession game, waited until the four minute mark of the quarter to extend their defense. Penn Wood appeared out of rhythm and turned the ball over on an errant pass. The Aces pounced on the opportunity, as McKenna drove the lane and found Cohen for another three-pointer, giving the Aces a one-point margin. After another Aces defensive stop, McKenna found another hole in the defense and hit a driving lay-up. Penn Wood would tie it, but never regain the lead.
With the game knotted at 44-44 and 30 seconds on the clock, the Aces had possession and moved the ball against Penn Wood’s pressure. With ten seconds left, Cohen found senior Harley Williamson in the middle of the lane. Williamson drove and missed a contested lay-up, but the ball caromed off the front iron to McKenna, who calmly lofted “the shot” as the buzzer sounded. The ball barely touched nylon as it swished through the net, sending the underdog-friendly crowd at Norristown High into a fever pitch and the Dawg Pound racing to the court for a celebratory “Dawg-pile” with players and coaches.
McKenna, who was named MVP of the Classic, did all of his damage off the bench, scoring ten points and providing a spark at both ends of the court. Senior standout Greg Robbins (8 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks), the focal point of Penn Wood’s defense, once again played the role of facilitator in a tempo game, content to direct his team to victory by handling the basketball, doing dirty work under the glass and making timely passes and shots. Junior Oliver Cohen scored a team-high 11 points and seemed to make his biggest shots when the team needed it most. Junior Alon Seltzer notched 10 points, helping the Maroon & White stay in the game during some rough offensive patches. Harley Williamson added six points and two blocked shots. Senior Vince Weldon once again played the role of defensive ace. The 44 points scored by Penn Wood marked their lowest output of the season.
It was the kind of all-around team effort that has come to exemplify these scrappy Aces: play hard with a winning attitude, no matter the opponent or the situation.
Next up for the Aces is a visit to Conestoga on Tuesday. Tip-off is set for 7:30 PM.
Lower Merion: 13 15 9 10 – 47
Penn Wood: 25 4 10 5 – 44
LM: Oliver Cohen 11, Matt McKenna 10, Alon Seltzer 10, Greg Robbins 8, Harley Williamson 6, Vince Weldon 2.
PW: Tyree Johnson 11, Duane Johnson 10, Aaron Brown 10, Dequan Pelzer 5, Chris White 3, Will Brown 2, Shawn Oakman 2, Thomas White 1.