Down by as many as ten points in the second half and trailing most of the game, the Aces dug deep for one of the most stirring regular season wins in recent team history.
Using a 24-10 run over the final ten minutes of play, LM exploded past ESPN #21/MaxPreps #15 Bishop O'Connell (VA) en route to a 56-52 stunner at the Burger King Classic in Erie.
With the win, the Aces advance to play Imhotep Charter on Saturday night at 8:30 PM in the finals of the nation's premier four-team high school tournament.
Friday night's contest began with a promising start for the Aces. Despite Bishop O'Connell's national pedigree, the Aces quickly proved they belonged -- matching the Knights basket-for-basket in a taught first quarter that saw seven lead changes. When the dust settled, LM held a 15-14 advantage heading into the second frame.
Bishop O'Connell, whose roster is loaded with D1 talent, including three-star 6'8 PF Junior Etou, soon began to find their groove. With the Aces firing blanks from the perimeter, the Knights built a 29-21 advantage late in the second quarter. The Aces stayed within striking distance, however, using an aggressive press to force two late Bishop O'Connell turnovers. Raheem Hall '13 knocked down a tough turnaround jumper in the closing seconds of the half to narrow the margin at 30-25.
Despite shooting 8-27 from the field and 0-9 from three, and facing a 22-17 rebounding deficit the Aces were somehow still in the game. LM's defense forced ten Knights turnovers in the first half -- a silver lining that would prove decisive over the final 16 minutes of play.
Bishop O'Connell tightened their grip on the game at the start of the second half, extending the margin to 42-32 with just three minutes to play in the third. If not for the strong play of BJ Johnson '13, who scored LM's first six points of the period, the Knights' lead would have been even greater. With the Aces desperate for a bucket, JaQuan Johnson '14 picked the perfect spot to nail LM's first -- and only -- trey of the night. The shot gave the Aces a jolt and momentum suddenly began to shift.
Justin McFadden '14 capped the third with a layup and the Aces were back within five at 42-37. For the 2,000+ fans packed into Gannon University's Hammermill Center, it was time to strap on the seat belts.
The Aces' surge continued at the start of the fourth frame. After a Knights bucket at the start of the quarter, the Aces scored the next eleven points. Two consecutive steals led to two straight layups by BJ to make the score 44-43 O'Connell. Yohanny Dalembert '13 followed-up a huge block on the defensive end with a driving layup to give LM its first lead of the game. BJ jumped the passing lane for another steal and converted at the other end for two points.
Bishop O'Connell called timeout. The Aces bench erupted. Aces Nation was going crazy in the tweetosphere.
The game's nail-biting conclusion played out at the free throw line. No one came up bigger than McFadden. The versatile junior nailed four consecutive bonus free throws with the Aces leading 48-45 and 50-49. BJ came up clutch yet again, icing the game at the line in the closing seconds and giving LM its final, four-point margin.
BJ led the way with 22 points. Yohanny (10 points, 5 rebounds and 7 blocks), Raheem (8 points), JaQuan (7 points), Justin (7 points) and Baird Howland '13 (2 points, 6 rebounds) rounded out the scoring. LM had 26 points off turnovers to 5 for Bishop O'Connell. LM forced 26 total turnovers -- with special defensive kudos to Hall and Johnson -- and finished with 16. The Aces got the victory despite shooting a season-low 1-18 from beyond the arc. LM finished 21-33 from the foul line; 11-15 in the fourth quarter.
The Aces earned their second win of the season against a nationally-ranked opponent for the first time in school history, but must quickly re-focus for the tall task ahead in the finals of the Burger King Classic. The Aces will face an Imhotep team currently ranked #2 in PA and the defending AA state champs.
For tonight, however, LM can enjoy some fries with their burgers.