Just one night after Kobe Bryant was in town making history, the Aces accomplished something that hadn't been done since Bryant's spectacular senior year of 1996.
On Monday against the Sixers, Kobe passed Shaquille O'Neal to move into 5th place on the NBA's all time scoring list. On Tuesday, the Aces beat Upper Darby 57-38 to clinch their first undefeated Central League regular season (16-0) in 16 years.
With one more win on Saturday night, the Aces can do something that no team -- with or without Kobe -- has ever done, by capping an undefeated league season with a championship victory in the Central League playoffs. The playoff format didn't exist in 1996, but that's a minor detail -- the 2011-12 Aces seem intent on making a little history of their own.
Defense ruled the day once again in the win against Upper Darby. The Aces held the Royals to one of their lowest point totals of the season, appearing hungrier and stingier as the game wore on. LM jumped out to a 17-10 first quarter lead behind a steady, balanced attack that saw contributions from all five starters. Upper Darby made a mini-run at the start of the second to close the gap to four points at 25-21, but that was as close as they would get. By halftime, the Aces had extended the lead to double-digits at 34-23 and never looked back en route to victory.
BJ Johnson '13, who finished with a game-high 17 points and took a key charge that thwarted an early Upper Darby run, got the Dawg Pound rocking in the first quarter with a dazzling dunk in transition off a pinpoint feed from Raheem Hall '13. Hall (10 points, 4 steals) and JaQuan Johnson '14 (6 points, 4 assists) played strong floor games, controlling tempo and getting their teammates involved early and often.
Darryl Reynolds '12 dominated the paint, finishing with 15 points and a season-high 14 rebounds. It seemed that each time Upper Darby was primed to climb back in the game, Reynolds came up clutch, scoring on a putback or sinking a pair of free throws.
Justin McFadden '13 (7 points) continued to show aggression on the offensive end, drilling a three in rhythm and finishing two pretty drives to the rim. Yohanny Dalembert '13 and Bryce Williamson '12 delivered strong play off the bench, particularly on the defensive end.
It was a total team effort. The Aces held Upper Darby to just 15 second-half points, and only six in the fourth quarter.
By finishing the league's regular season undefeated, the Aces earned a bye in the Central League playoffs and will await the winner of a semi-final match-up between Conestoga and Upper Darby on Thursday night at Strath Haven. The league final will be held at Penncrest High School on Saturday in a boys/girls championship double-header. Tip-off time TBD.
LM's regular season accomplishments -- a 20-2 overall record and 16-0 league mark -- are worthy of reflection and praise, at least for a night. But tomorrow, the focus will quickly shift to the tough road ahead. The Aces' first order of unfinished business -- and their first shot at something truly special -- begins on Saturday.