The Aces used a 9-0 fourth quarter run to break open a competitive game and stormed past Plymouth Whitemarsh 64-46 in round two of the district playoffs. With the win, the Aces earned their second straight state playoff berth and their third district quarterfinals appearance in the last four years.
Tuesday night had the makings of a heavyweight fight between two perennial state basketball powers. PW arrived as one of the most battle-tested teams in the area, boasting the second-toughest schedule in all of District 1, and a convincing round one victory over Conestoga. The Aces had crushed Penncrest in their playoff opener and hadn't seen a non-league opponent in more than a month. The game represented an important test for the Maroon & White -- how would they respond in a money game, against an athletic team with significant playoff experience?
The Aces and Colonials traded jabs early in the opening frame until LM landed the first punch - a three-ball in rhythm from Justin McFadden '14 (7 points, 2-3 3 PT) to give the Aces a 7-4 lead. LM connected again on a three from BJ Johnson '13 (game-high 22 points) and closed the quarter on a 10-2 run, secured by stellar perimeter defense from Raheem Hall '13 (17 points, 3 steals) and Jaquan Johnson '14 (8 points) and steady work off the glass by Darryl Reynolds '12 (game-high 13 rebounds). At the end of one, the Aces were up 17-8 and had effectively answered any questions about their readiness.
PW battled to keep things close in a frenetic second quarter, but couldn't gain ground. The Colonials narrowed the score at 21-14 on a bucket by big man Jake Silvers, but Yohanny Dalembert '13 (4 points, 2 blocks) answered with a driving layup off a pretty feed by Mike Robbins '12 and BJ hit a pull-up in the lane to extend the Aces' lead to double digits. At halftime, the Aces led 31-21 and had controlled play for much the first 16 minutes.
And yet, no one in the Bryant Gymnasium was willing to breathe a sigh of relief -- least of all, the Dawg Pound -- who donned their gold, green and maroon on Tuesday to cheer on the Aces in Mardi Gras-infused pandemonium. Sensing the magnitude of the moment, the Pound raised their game several octaves at the start of the third quarter.
And for good reason.
PW began to find their defensive stride, and slowly started to chip away at the Aces' lead, which shrank to seven by the end of the frame. The Colonials' star guard Anthony McKie, who scored 47 points in a game earlier this year, scored six straight points for PW and narrowed the gap to 43-37 at the start of the fourth quarter.
It was gut-check time for LM, and the Aces responded in impressive, decisive fashion.
First came a bucket by BJ, then a driving lay-up by Jaquan, then a steal and lay-up by Hall. The Aces put the clamps on defensively, with Reynolds patrolling the paint and collecting two key blocks. He also added a put-back during the run. Another steal led to a Johnson dunk and suddenly, the Aces were up by 18 points and cruising to the finish. The Dawg Pound responded in kind, erupting to celebrate the Aces' first-ever state-qualifying win in the Bryant Gymnasium.
It was a satisfying night for the LM faithful, and an important win against a formidable opponent.
The Aces' playoff journey continues on Friday night at home with a match-up against red-hot Souderton. Tip-off is set for 7 PM. The Indians crushed Council Rock North 70-55 on Tuesday and have lost just two games since December. More details about the game will be posted on aceshoops.com in the coming days.
LM: 17 14 11 22 - 64
PW: 8 13 14 11 - 46Scoring: Reynolds 6, McFadden 7, R. Johnson 22, J. Johnson 8, Hall 17, Dalembert 4