For much of the past decade, the Aces have built their postseason reputation as the plucky underdog -- knocking off higher seeds with guile, grit and clutch play. It's a role they and their fans have relished, and one that perhaps has relieved some of the pressure of expectations over the years.
This year, LM has learned to handle a new role -- that of the favorite. And on Tuesday night at the Liacouras Center, the Aces knew full well that any slip-up, any mistake, and they'd be the victim of a bitter role reversal -- no matter what their body of work has been to date.
Against a young, talented Abington team that played hungry and carefree, the Aces effectively did what they've done all season long. They handled their business.
Using an 8-0 run at the end of the third quarter, LM broke open a tight game and vanquished the Ghosts 68-54 to earn a trip to the District Finals for the first time since 2006.
Up 20-19 at the start of the second period, the Aces extended the margin to five (24-19) on consecutive baskets by Darryl Reynolds '12 (18 points, 11 rebounds, 6 blocks) and BJ Johnson '13 (career-high 29 points). Abington countered with a 12-6 run to take a brief 32-31 lead late in the frame, but Johnson hit a jumper to give the Aces a 32-31 halftime advantage.
LM tightened up its defense in the third quarter and slowly began to pull away from the Ghosts. Reynolds, who anchored the Aces' back line all night, collected three of his game-high five blocks and dominated the defensive glass during the period. Johnson heated up, scoring 11 of his points in the frame. Over the final four minutes of the third, LM outscored Abington 11-2 and opened up their first double-digit lead of the night at 51-40. On the last possession of the quarter, the Aces controlled the ball for 40 seconds and capped a crisp passing sequence with a layup by Johnson at the buzzer off a nice feed from JaQuan Johnson '14 (4 points, team-high 6 assists).
Abington pulled to within seven (57-50) midway through the fourth, but Raheem Hall '13 (13 points, 4 assists) found Reynolds for two dunks in transition and the Aces iced the game at the free throw line.
After months of hard work, the Maroon & White delivered when it mattered most. Backed by a vociferous Dawg Pound, they navigated through a challenging District bracket for the chance to play for a title. And whether getting there as an underdog or a favorite, the Aces once again proved that it's the getting there that counts.
And now the Aces return to the more familiar role of underdog, as they take on Chester in the District Finals this Friday night at 9 PM at Villanova. The Clippers, ranked 4th in national polls, beat Wissahickon 67-52 in the other semifinal. Tickets for Friday's game are available in the LMHS athletic office Wednesday and Thursday from 9 AM - 3 PM and on Friday from 8 AM - 1 PM.
LM: 18 14 19 17 ? 68
A: 16 15 9 14 ? 54
LM: JaQuan Johnson 4, Raheem Hall 13, Darryl Reynolds 18, B.J. Johnson 29, Yohanny Dalembert 2, Justin McFadden 2