It wasn?t a masterpiece, but the Aces got the job done on Saturday night, knocking off red-hot Upper Darby 65-63 for their fourth straight victory. Justin McFadden ?14 had a huge night, scoring a career-high 27 points and collecting a team-high eight rebounds, including two big ones down the stretch to help thwart a late Royals comeback. Steve Pendleton '15 (11 points), JaQuan Johnson '14 (11 points), Jule Brown '15 (8 points) and Corey Sherman '15 (8 points) rounded out the Aces attack.
After falling behind 11-4 in the early going, the Aces narrowed the gap to 19-16 by the end of the first quarter. The Aces and Royals traded buckets at the start of a fast-paced second frame, before a Johnson trey and McFadden layup knotted the game at 30-30. LM took its first lead with 2:14 left to play in the half, going up 35-34 on a McFadden bonus free throw. Eli Needle ?16 took a textbook charge in the closing seconds of the quarter, setting up a final Aces score. LM led 37-34 at the break.
LM maintained a small advantage throughout the third, and capped the quarter with a sterling possession where they ran nearly two minutes off the clock before a driving McFadden layup at the buzzer. LM led 50-44 after three and appeared poised to seize control of the game.
But the Royals ? who entered the game 10-1 and tied atop the Central League standings -- wouldn?t go down easily. A 10-4 Upper Darby run over the next four minutes tied the game at 54-54 and forced an LM timeout. On the ensuing possession, Pendleton found a seam in the Upper Darby defense and attacked the rim for a layup. McFadden then stole the ball near half court, hit a driving layup and was fouled and converted the free throw for a three-point play. Two defensive stops and one more McFadden basket later, the Aces led 63-54 with less than a minute to play. But the game was still far from over.
The Royals connected on two straight long threes and had a chance to pull within one at the line with 35 seconds to play. But both free throws missed the mark and McFadden collected the rebound on the second shot. The Aces called time-out to set up an in-bounds play and found Johnson, who was fouled in the backcourt and calmly sank two free throws to give the Aces a 65-60 lead. The Royals converted a layup with less than 10 seconds to play to draw within three. After LM missed the front end of a one-and-one, the Royals had one more opportunity. But LM took a foul to force Upper Darby to the line for two, down three with four seconds to play. The Royals made the first, and missed the second intentionally, but another tough McFadden rebound and an expiring clock sealed the final outcome.
There have certainly been wins of greater magnitude in recent years, but Saturday?s outcome felt huge for an Aces team eager to stake its claim as a league contender after a tough opening month. The Maroon & White have been slowly chipping away in recent weeks. On Saturday, they added a much-needed milestone to their season resume ? a gritty home victory over a high-quality ballclub.
LM returns to action Tuesday night at Garnet Valley. Tip-off is 7 PM.