Antonio Inoki '17
Playback is a b*tch.
After falling to Conestoga twice during the regular season and coming up short for a chance at a rematch in the league finals, it seemed the Aces would be left without an opportunity for redemption. But thanks to a fateful draw in the playback round of the District tournament, the Aces had one last shot against the Pioneers on Tuesday night. And it was a shot Corey Sherman ?15 wasn?t going to miss.
With the Aces trailing by two with less than a minute to play, Sherman stole a Conestoga inbounds pass and found Jule Brown ?15 for a layup to tie the game at 43-43. The Pioneers ran the clock down in an effort to get a final shot, but missed a layup with five seconds that caromed into the hands of Steve Pendleton ?15. Pendleton quickly pushed the ball ahead to a streaking Sherman, who stopped on a dime with a second left on the clock and calmly lofted a three-pointer from the left wing. The ball found nothing but the bottom of the net, prompting an epic eruption from the Aces bench and capping perhaps the Aces? most impressive win of the season.
The Aces and Pioneers arrived on Tuesday night having bowed out in the quarterfinals of District play on Friday. LM, seeded #12 in District play, had watched an eight-point halftime lead evaporate in a loss to #4 Plymouth Whitemarsh. Conestoga, the #1 seed, fell in a tight one to Ridley for the second time in a week. The losses bumped the Aces and Conestoga into the District playback round on Tuesday night, where they would play for seeding in the state tournament. While both teams would have preferred to have been playing in the District Final Four, Tuesday had the feel of a marquee postseason matchup as two league rivals battled for bragging rights and momentum heading into state play.
The game began in fortuitous fashion for the Aces, who raced to a 19-7 first quarter lead behind a deft transition game and solid interior defense. The Pioneers went on a run of their own in the second quarter to take a 26-25 lead into halftime after a miraculous full-court Brown heave was called off at the buzzer.
The second half was tight throughout with multiple lead changes. LM held a slim 34-31 advantage after three quarters, but Conestoga evened the game in the fourth and took a two-point advantage twice in the last three minutes of play. With LM trailing by one at the 2:24 mark, Pendleton drove the lane and found Sherman on the perimeter for the senior guard?s first of two big threes in the period. On the next two possessions, Conestoga converted a layup and went one for two from the line to go up by a point. After the two teams traded scores, LM was forced to foul at the 50-second mark to extend the game. The Pioneers went one of two at the line, but rebounded the second shot and retained possession at 43-41. Off of a timeout, Sherman intercepted Conestoga?s inbounds pass to secure possession for the Aces, triggering the final, breathtaking sequence.
The Aces delivered when they needed it most. And they did it as a team, with contributions coming from multiple players, and a bench that brought energy and passion on the sidelines throughout the contest. It was the kind of hard-fought, gritty effort that has defined Lower Merion basketball ? and it came at the perfect time, with payback on the line.
The Aces conclude the District playoffs on Friday night - opponent, location and time TBD.
Game notes?While the Aces have won a number of close contests over the years, Sherman?s game-winning buzzer-beater was the first since Matt McKenna ?11 drilled a three-pointer against Penn Wood in 2009. It was the first post-season game-winner at the buzzer since a Greg Robbins ?09 jumper against Easton in the state quarterfinals in 2007...Brown led the Aces with a game-high 15 points. Sherman added 14 points, including four treys...Jeremy Horn '16 had six blocked shots.