In a young season with an inexperienced roster, there are sure to be a few bumps in the road. For the Aces, fresh off a tip-off-tourney win at Parkland, the first bump came at home.
In front of a raucous Aces Nation crowd and energized Dawg Pound, the Aces battled, but ultimately succumbed 77-65 to a veteran Springfield squad that quite simply shot the lights out. The Cougars, traditionally one of the top three-point shooting teams in the Central League, shot a blistering 72% from the floor, including 8-11 from beyond the arc.
The Aces moved the ball well on offense, led by Carl Johnson (20 points, 2 steals ), Greg Robbins (16 points, 6 rebounds), Eric Barefield (15 points, 3 steals) and Steve Meehan (8 points, 2-3 3 pt.). Johnson knifed through Cougars' interior defense with abandon and Robbins showed strong moves in the post, but the Aces were unable to get their vaunted transition game going and scored only one fast-break basket. After getting to the line 35 times against Parkland, they made only eight trips to the charity stripe on Friday.
Still, they had their chances.
Down by as much as 14 in the third, the Aces narrowed the gap to 66-61 mid-way through the fourth on a 10-2 run capped by a Meehan three-pointer. On the ensuing Springfield possession, Johnson appeared to have a clean steal in the backcourt, but was called for a foul as he dove for the loose ball. The play halted the Aces' momentum and they were unable to make key defensive stops down the stretch. The Aces held Springfield's returning starters in check, limiting D1 signee Frank McKnight to 14 points and familiar back-court mates Chris VonTanhausen and Matt Salerno to six and nine points, respectively. But forwards Dan McGarrigle and Lou Meindl did their best to conjure up the ghosts of Dan Geriot, scoring career highs of 24 points apiece. The Cougars' point total was the highest by an opponent in the main gym in almost four years.
Despite the loss, the opening night environment was electric. Nearly 1,500 fans packed the bleachers, with additional fans spilling into the upper balcony. The familiar chants of "Let's Go Aces" were as frenzied and passionate as ever, and the Dawg Pound unveiled several new routines, including a sailor song to greet opposing players at the free throw line. Nearly three hours before the game, fans fired up the grills in the parking lot and tailgated despite a stiff wind and thermometer readings in the teens, a sure sign that basketball season is back in Lower Merion.
Now 2-1, the Aces turn their attention to Tuesday night's 7:30 PM contest at Strath Haven against a much-improved Panthers squad. Strath Haven (2-1) has already matched their win total from last year.
Coverage of last night's game appeared in Springfield's home newspaper, the Delco Times. To read the story, click here.