The LM bench reacts to the Aces' spirited play on Friday night
Well, it wasn’t for lack of effort. The Aces scratched, clawed, and did just about everything they could to take down the mighty Penn Wood Patriots but came up just short in a 38-35 heartbreaker on Friday night. Despite the loss, the Maroon & White and their faithful learned an important lesson that should serve them well this playoff season – the Aces are for real, and they just might be getting better. The Aces actually controlled much of the second half, holding a five point lead early in the fourth quarter. If not for a few breaks late in the game, it might be Lower Merion advancing in District play. Ultimately, Penn Wood -- the preseason favorite to win the state title and a USA Top Fifty team -- hit clutch shots and escaped with the victory. The loss stings, no doubt, but there’s certainly much to play for with District seeding games and the state playoffs ahead.
Lower Merion came out of the gates strong, holding the bigger, athletic Penn Wood side to only 7 points in the first frame and held a two point lead until the end of the first half. An Alon Seltzer three-pointer in the first – the first 3 points of the game – got the Aces going. Harley Williamson slammed home a two-handed jam with 2:40 left in the first quarter, sending the Dawg Pound – almost 450 strong – into a frenzy. Oliver Cohen extended the lead in the second quarter with a trey of his own. However, Penn Wood’s Duane Johnson shouldered the Patriots’ load; slamming home two put-back jams in the first half to ensure a tie at halftime 19-19.
Whatever Coach Downer said during halftime motivated the Maroon & White to come out strong in the 2nd half. Another Seltzer three, a Greg Robbins offensive rebound and put-back, and a Robbins reverse lay-in extended the Aces lead to 7 (29-22) with only 2:05 left in the third quarter. But the Patriots came back firing. Penn Wood guards Tyree Johnson and Chris White each sunk huge threes in the final frame, pushing the Patriots in front for good. Even heroic efforts on both ends of the court from Robbins and Eric Stahler were not enough to get the Aces back in front. The Aces controlled tempo and limited Penn Wood to a season-low offensive output, but LM could only manage four points in the critical fourth quarter.
In his first start of the season and only his third game back from injury, Stahler could not have been asked upon to do anymore than he did; he led the offense from the point, weathering a storm of Penn Wood pressure to collect 7 assists on only one turnover. He played stifling defense on Johnson, one of the area's top Division 1 prospects. Most importantly, however, he was able to play a full 32 minutes. Robbins had a game-high 14 points and game-high 13 rebounds, at times being defended by 6’8” forward Shawn Oakman and at others by Penn Wood’s cat-quick guards. Williamson, who played through much of the second half in foul trouble, was still able to put away 9 points. Seltzer scored nine as well. Cohen nailed a three and played another steady floor game.
What the Aces have accomplished since their 1-3 start is nothing short of remarkable. They strung together 17 consecutive wins, including four victories against the state’s top teams and a Central League title. They have won five games in the final minutes and did almost all of it without the services of Stahler, a three year starting point guard. In the toughest District in the state, they have earned a state playoff bid for the fourth time in five years. At 22-5 and playing some of their best defense of the season, a veteran Aces squad has to be considered a dangerous opponent heading into March.
The Aces now join Chester, Plymouth Whitemarsh and CB South in the District’s kick-back tournament, which will determine seeding for the state playoffs. The Aces will take on Plymouth Whitemarsh on Tuesday night (time/location TBD).
Lower Merion: 9 10 12 4 – 35
Penn Wood: 7 12 7 12 – 38
LM: Greg Robbins 14, Harley Williamson 8, Alon Seltzer 8, Oliver Cohen 3, Eric Stahler 2.
PW: Duane Johnson 12, Tyree Johnson 11, Chris White 7, Aaron Brown 4, Thomas White.