The new-look Aces were up to their old ways for most of Saturday night, but couldn't close the door on a talented Imhotep squad, dropping the season opener 58-54 in a sold-out Bryant Gymnasium.
Justin McFadden '14 led the Aces with 17 points and added five rebounds and four assists. Nick Jones '15 (15 points), Jule Brown '15 (13 points, 5 rebounds) and JaQuan Johnson '14 (9 points, 6 rebounds) rounded out the scoring.
After falling behind 7-3 in the early going, the Aces used a patient spread offense and stellar free throw shooting to keep the much-taller Panthers at bay for most of the game. LM led 12-10 after one and extended the lead to six towards the end of the second quarter -- highlighted by a Brown trey, but the Panthers forced a turnover and converted a three-point play to close the gap to 28-25 just before halftime. LM forced Imhotep into early foul trouble and capitalized at the line, shooting 7-8 from the charity stripe in the first half.
The Panthers started the second half on an 8-2 run, but LM countered to even the score at 37-37 at the end of the third quarter highlighted by a Brown tip-in. McFadden picked up his fourth foul early in the third, a tough blow in a game where the Aces faced an uphill battle on the interior.
In the fourth, Imhotep began to attack the rim with greater frequency and turned up its press in an effort to speed up the game. But LM stayed the course. With less than four minutes to play, the Aces held a 46-45 advantage after a Jones three-point play and appeared to be on the verge of a remarkable early upset. Ultimately, however, the Panthers' size and a few late LM miscues proved the difference. Imhotep converted four offensive rebounds in the game's final 90 seconds to seal the game down the stretch.
Saturday's result is a stinger; LM had a golden opportunity to knock off a premier opponent. Still, there were plenty of encouraging signs. The Aces played toe-to-toe with a team considered by many to be among the best in the state. The Panthers, the defending 3A champs, have a deep, athletic roster and start three players 6'6 and above. While the Aces lack the size of years past, their versatility was evident on Saturday night, with multiple players able to score and get to the rim. LM also shot 15-17 from the free throw line, a critical ingredient to success against top teams. And perhaps most importantly, they played hard - very hard.
It may be early December, but LM already has a valuable gauge on what it will take to compete with state-level talent this season. As the roster gains greater experience and discovers its strengths, the Aces should be an interesting team to watch.LM opens Central League play on Tuesday night (12/10) at Haverford High School. Tip-off is 7 PM.