NETHER PROVIDENCE >> First-time head coaches Dave McFadden and Billy Rowe stood on opposite benches Saturday afternoon at Strath Haven High School. What transpired over 32 minutes illustrated the differing challenges each rookie skipper faces.
McFadden’s Panthers waltzed to a 56-26 win over Rowe’s Interboro squad in a nonleague game, moving them to 2-0, a record that looks more impressive given the 3-19 campaign the program endured last year. Rowe is still in search of that first win, evidence that all rebuilds don’t exactly come with the same standard pieces.
McFadden inherited an underachieving group from Tom Dougherty last year, and he’s molded them into a high-energy attack. The Panthers multiple avenues for offense, which they only had to brandish to a limited degree to dismiss the Bucs after accruing an 18-1 edge in the second quarter that sent them into half up, 29-8.
Big John Harrar needed just five field goal attempts to notch 10 points. Alex Ischiropoulos drained three 3-pointers to finish with a game-high 13. Kyree Fuller slashed to the glass and worked the boards for 11 points and seven rebounds. And the parade was orchestrated by point guard Jahmeir Springfield, who scored six points to go with six assists and four steals in helping force 21 Interboro turnovers.
Those numbers were only so modest thanks to the lightened workload of the Haven starters permitted by the wide margin. In that climate, parlaying the momentum of Friday’s defeat of an albeit shorthanded Academy Park, it’s easy to see why Haven players are referring to the good vibes McFadden has created.
“Just based off of energy alone, I think we have a better team because we have a lot more positive energy coming in,” Fuller said. “Effort, energy, we’ve been playing really good defense. … I think that’s really the difference, and we’re not dwelling on the past.”
Interboro, meanwhile, gave West Chester East a run for its money Friday night in a six-point loss. The toll that near-miss took was evident, and not just in the stitches on Josh Encarnacion’s chin or the physio tape on his sprained wrist.
The point guard battled through to lead the Bucs with nine points, including two of the team’s eight made field goals to go with two assists. For a team largely devoid of meaningful experience left behind by predecessor Jeff Webb, the weekend is a reminder that Rowe faces an uphill challenge.
When adversity snowballs as it did in the second quarter, that spiral can be impossible to escape. The only thing separating the Bucs from being blanked in the frame was an Encarnacion free throw in the final minute. All told, the run sandwiching an 11-minute field-goal drought was 27-1, stretching from the end of the first quarter to the start of the third.
Overall, Interboro shot 8-for-38 from the field (21.1 percent) and 1-for-10 from 3-point land. Even at the line, the Bucs were a paltry 9-for-19.
Short on height and seasoning, the most valuable quality the captain Encarnacion could see from his teammates was the desire for change, a commodity that wasn’t in as short of supply as the score might indicate.
“At times, I think there are players out there fighting,” he said. “For the guys that fight every possession, I give credit to them. We may not be the biggest or the strongest, but as long as we continue to fight for all 32 minutes of the game, I think that’s what really matters. Just wearing that jersey, it’s an honor. Just everyone has to buy in to that situation like Coach Rowe said in the locker room.”
Those levels of commitment, significant enough to offer optimism, were no match to the structural changes McFadden has implemented.
Harrar scored six points in the first quarter, Springfield running the inside-out game. In the second, Ischiropoulos capitalized on a zone defense designed to collapse on the bigs with three triples and nine of his 11 points.
“I’m always told to take really good shots,” he said. “I don’t want to force anything. I knew that they went zone, so I just found my shot. I just want to take the best shot possible for my team.”
After halftime, with Interboro needing to push the tempo to get back into the game, Haven focused on its defense to take advantage of an overeager opponent and give valuable minutes to some of the depth cogs in the rotation.
Coming within a win of matching last season’s tally might be uplifting for the Panthers. But at the dawn of a long season, no one’s getting ahead of themselves.
“It’s getting better,” Fuller said, “but we still know that there’s more work to do.”
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