UPPER MERION >> Cheltenham High head coach John Timms came into the Upper Merion High gymnasium Thursday night a little wary of what he might find.
The Panthers head man had seen Vikings like Matt Faw and Ethan Miller on the off-season circuit, and he knew the potential they represented.
Fortunately for the Panthers, those dangerous Vikings didn’t show up.
Instead, Upper Merion tried to run with the Panthers early, found themselves in a quick hole and never could quite dig their way out.
Cheltenham spoiled Upper Merion’s season opener with a 51-40 victory, and Timms was wearing the smile of a man who knew he had escaped the gallows.
“I have a lot of respect for Upper Merion,” Timms said. “I saw a lot of their players in the performance clinics I worked over the summer, so I know what they can do.
“Fortunately for us, this was their first game, because I think they’re going to be a very good team before this season is over.”
But Thursday, the Vikings made the fateful error early of trying to run with a team that predicates its entire game on getting up and down the floor.
“We came out and immediately began playing their game,” said Vikings head coach Jason Quenzer. “We just didn’t have enough composure at the start of the game.”
The Panthers went up-tempo from the opening tip, and the Vikings went right along with them.
And before you could say, “Slow down,” the Panthers’ Treyvonn Pitts had seven first-quarter points and the visitors had an 11-point, first-quarter lead.
Things didn’t get much better in the second period, as the Panthers, who can easily go 10 deep without losing much court quality, blew the lead up to 18 (35-17) by halftime.
“I really believe we could have two sets of starters,” Timms said. “We have a good group of sophomores that could be starters, but right now our seniors are playing well enough to keep them on the bench.”
Upper Merion finally made some inroads in the third period as Ethan Miller (12 points) and Matt Faw (13 points, 10 rebounds) helped whittle the deficit to 12 (40-28) by the end of three.
That run, said Quenzer, had a lot to do with reserve point guard Connor McDermott.
“When he came in, he changed the tone of the game,” the coach said. “He slowed down the game and we were able to get in our spots and play our game.”
But on this night, the Panthers had too much of a head start.
Amir Lewis and Anthony White helped keep the Vikings at bay, and Cheltenham eased into the winner’s circle.
“I thought we were more than prepared,” Quenzer said. “We just didn’t play very smart basketball.”
“As I said, we were fortunate this was their first game,” Timms said. “And I’ll take the early Christmas gift.”
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