The Aces took one on the chin Tuesday night, losing a squeaker on the road to undefeated Penncrest 52-50. Leading by seven at halftime and seemingly in control, LM came up empty on too many second-half trips and allowed the Lions to claw back into the game. Penncrest’s clutch play, fueled by a home crowd desperate for a victory against Lower Merion, proved the difference down the stretch.
Tuesday’s defeat certainly wasn’t for lack of effort. LM played hard and had opportunities on the offensive end. But they struggled to find the bottom of the net all night. LM shot just 40% from the field and 3-12 from three. More telling was their inability to convert at point-blank range; the Aces missed 12 shots in the paint in the second half, many of them layups.
Behind a swarming, high-energy defense, LM forced 14 first-half turnovers and held the Lions to just 22 points. The press was working and the Lions appeared rattled on the perimeter. But it was a different story after the break. Penncrest adjusted and stung the Aces from long-range, nailing four second-half treys (six total for the game). The Aces were also outrebounded by the taller Lions. Still, LM dug deep to rally from down six in the final two minutes and had three opportunities to tie the game late. But two missed layups and a turnover cut the spirited comeback short.
The Aces once again had their chances, but their inexperience continues to show in this young season. Simply, this team needs to learn how to win close games against quality opponents. The Aces' three losses – to teams with a combined 12-1 record - have all been decided in the closing minutes. To be sure, this unit is tantalizingly close. One or two plays, one or two made shots and the outcomes would be different. With so many players in new roles or seeing their first meaningful minutes on the floor this season, however, the growing pains are frustrating but not unexpected. It is indeed part of the learning process.
It's back to work for the Aces, who won't have much time to dwell on the loss. LM continues a particularly difficult stretch of four road games in eight days on Thursday night at Harriton. The Rams are another strong contender in the Central League this year. Tip-off is 7 PM.
The Aces are certainly no strangers to overcoming tough starts. In 2009, LM rebounded from a 1-3 start to earn a state playoff berth and Central league title. In 2011, LM lost three early games before making a long postseason run. In 2005, LM had three league losses before winter break and ended up in the state championship. The hope is that this year’s team can keep chipping away as well. It’s a long season, and hard work will ultimately be rewarded.