By Sammy Coleridge '18
Bryant Gymnasium has played host to a number of exciting first round playoff wins in its six-year history. But none was more dramatic ? and more improbable ? than the Aces' stunning 68-66 overtime victory over Penn Wood on Friday night.
With time winding down and the Aces trailing by a point, Steve Payne ?19 found Terrell Jones ?17 well beyond the top of the key. Jones heaved a moonshot trey that found nothing but net just before the final buzzer sounded. Delirium ensued. The Aces had punched their ticket to the second round of the District playoffs.
It was a game of runs between two teams playing with exceptional effort and a full understanding of the stakes. Both teams had prepared for the moment with two of the toughest regular season schedules in the area. The Patriots, a perennial District 1 power, came in battle-tested against the likes of Chester and Martin Luther King. LM had earned the higher seed with wins over state powers like McCaskey and York. Though the Aces got off to a hot start thanks in part to 12 first-half points by Jeremy Horn ?16, Penn Wood used relentless ball pressure to battle back from an early seven-point deficit and take a 35-30 lead into halftime.
The Aces adjusted at the break, inserting a four-guard lineup that featured the rarely-used Payne. But the frosh was ready, and he, KJ Helton ?16, Noah Fennell '17 and Dion Harris ?17 ? who led the team with 17 points, including 13 in the second half ? keyed a remarkable third quarter turnaround that put LM back in front 48-43 going into the final frame. Suddenly, the Aces were able to match Penn Wood?s speed, slicing through the Patriots? pressure and attacking the rim at will.
But Penn Wood would not go down easily. Though the Aces led by as many as six in the final frame, the Patriots used consecutive three-point plays over the last two minutes to knot the score at 60-60 with seconds to play. LM could not convert on the final possession, sending the game to overtime.
Things were just as tight in the extra period. Penn Wood got the scoring started with a layup that was answered by a Jones drive and finish. In fact, the junior swingman who had played sparingly throughout, scored seven of his nine points in the frame ? complimented by a Helton free throw that put LM up 65-64 and keyed the final, heart-pounding sequence.
With 12 seconds to play, the Patriots answered Helton?s foul shot with a driving layup. It appeared the Aces might turn the ball over on the ensuing drive up the floor, but LM was able to get a time-out ? their last ? with 6.5 seconds on the clock, enabling Jones to launch the game-winner.
It was the fifth overtime victory for the Aces this year and certainly the most important. The win means the Aces move on to play Upper Dublin on Tuesday night at 7 PM at home. It?s also the sixth opening round playoff win in a row at home for the Aces ? the longest such streak among District 1 4A teams. This one however, much like the Aces season, was just a bit more of a roller-coaster than most.