Lower Merion >> There are no guarantees in the first round of the district playoffs, and nobody no knows that better than Lower Merion senior guard Terrell Jones.
“I told the guys we have to focus on our first round game [against Central Bucks South] before we can look ahead [to the second round],” said Jones. “There are no guarantees. My sophomore year we won our opening round game by one point; my junior year we won by two points.”
When Jones and the rest of his Lower Merion teammates, seeded 10th, took the court Friday night against the 24th seeded Titans in the opening round of the inaugural PIAA District One Class 6A playoffs, the Aces raced out to a 40-24 halftime lead before holding on for the 70-57 win before a packed house at Bryant Gymnasium.
With the win, 10th seeded Lower Merion advances to the second round, where they will face No. 7 seed Conestoga at Conestoga Tuesday at 7 p.m.
“It was huge,” said Lower Merion coach Gregg Downer, referring to the way his seniors helped Lower Merion jump out to an early lead. “Even the 40-24 halftime lead felt like a good cushion. The second half got a little choppy but the first round game is often a nerve wracking game and all you are doing is trying to live another day.”
Lower Merion sophomore guard Darryl Taylor added, “The seniors told us it could be our last game, so we just had to focus on tonight and not look ahead. They came out real intense and that was big for us. It took some of the pressure off and allowed us to relax and play ball.”
Not only did the Aces make a statement on the court Friday evening, they also made a statement off the court regarding their pre-game actions in Tuesday’s Central League championship game.
The Lower Merion players issued a statement that was handed out to the fans entering the Bryant Gymnasium prior to the start of the game, then, just before the game, during the National Anthem, the Aces lined up in unison wearing the same T-shirts that they wore Tuesday that read, “I am a Muslim. I am a Refugee. I am an Immigrant. I am an American. I am an Ace.”
The Lower Merion players’ statement read, in part, “Tonight, we wear our shirts for the final time as a team on court. We are proud of what we’ve accomplished, but don’t want the message of our actions to get lost in political debates and internet comments. We do however encourage others to buy and wear them proudly.
“One of the stories that really inspired us in the past couple days is from a group of ESL (English as a Second Language) students in our community who have come from other countries and endured hardships that we would never want to even imagine. They told us that things have been tough for them recently, but that what we did made them know that there is someone who is willing to stand up for them.
“Some pople think that what we did was some kind of statement to the President. That actually never came up in our conversations and the truth is we disagree on a lot of things, politics included. But together, we just wanted to raise awareness for people who might need a little extra support right now and who deserve the same freedoms that we have to express ouselves and go about our daily lives in peace.”
About 30 minutes after Friday’s contest, Lower Merion junior guard Harrison Klevan was asked if the Aces would be wearing a different T-shirt prior to their second-round district playoff game (or in future post-season contests), and he responded, “It’s possible – we’re not sure yet.”
With the Aces holding a 40-24 halftime lead Friday, the Titans came roaring back, slicing Lower Merion’s lead to 51-44 midway through the fourth quarter, thanks to a putback layup from senior forward Andrew Dietz.
With the Aces holding a tenuous 55-47 lead, Taylor came through in a key spot with two steals, two baskets and an assist to push Lower Merion’s lead to 61-49 with 2:35 left.
“Darryl is a phenomenal player,” said Jones, who finished with 16 points, grabbed five rebounds and dished out two assists. “His presence changed the game. He may have only finished with eight points but they came at a key time and without Darryl I was unsure what the outcome would be. I am happy for him.”
The Aces made sure there would be no Central Bucks South comeback by closing out the game going 9-for-14 from the charity stripe (Jones was 6-for-8).
“Terrell was huge for us tonight,” said Taylor. “He made big shots and does good things for us. His strong start helped take some of the pressure off.”
Lower Merion 70, Central Bucks South 57
Central Bucks South: Danny Tecce 4, Colin Sauers 2, Nate Robinson 6, Tommy Kuypers 6, Alex Karras 6, Nate Johnston 9, Andrew Dietz 24.
Lower Merion: Darryl Taylor 8, Steve Payne 9, Matt O’Connor 6, Khadafy Bilal 4, Theon Davis 1, Noah Fennell 16, Jack Forrest 7, Theo Henry 3, Terrell Jones 16.
Central Bucks South 11 13 17 16 — 57
Lower Merion 23 17 10 20 — 70
3 pt field goals: LM – Jones 2, Fennell 2, Payne, O’Connor 2, Forrest; CBS – Karras, Dietz.