By NEIL GEOGHEGAN
UWCHLAN – A boys’ basketball season that started with so much promise – and, not coincidentally, 11 consecutive wins – came to a disheartening end, which was actually quite similar to the way the regular season concluded.
Ranked among the state’s top-10 back in early January, Downingtown East limped to the finish line over the last few weeks and then saw its season come to a close with a 51-43 setback to visiting Norristown in round one of the District 1 Class 6A playoffs on Friday. The 14th seeded Cougars played well early and late, but performed poorly in the middle and trailed by as much as a dozen to the No. 19 Eagles.
“This season was just a weird ride, where in parts of December and into January, we were on this March madness-like run,” said East head coach John Goodman. “I don’t know if that exhausted us, or if we peaked too early. All of our losses were to really good teams, some by a little and some by a lot.
“We were ninth in the state and then got everybody’s best shot. It was like we were the defending league champs, but we weren’t.”
In the season’s final 12 games, the Cougars went 3-9 to finish 14-9 overall. Norristown (13-10 overall) advances to round two and will take on third-seeded Abington on Tuesday.
The visitors got off to a shaky start, but woke up late in the first quarter and proceeded to outscore East 20-7 the rest of the half to take a 24-16 lead into the break.
“We had trouble matching (Norristown’s) intensity,” Goodman explained. “Their on-the-ball defense was very good, and it took us a while to adjust to it.”
Freshman Andrew King sparked the Cougars with seven of his team-high 15 points in the third quarter, but he got little help from his teammates and Norristown stretched the lead to 12 heading into the final period.
“King was great tonight,” Goodman said. “There were moments when you can see how special of a player he is.”
To its credit, East did make a serious late run to make things interesting. Junior point guard Malik Slay scored nine of his 13 points as the Cougars staged an 11-2 rally that sliced the Norristown lead to 41-38 with just under three minutes remaining.
But the Eagles closed it out at the free throw line. Mike Dorman and Xavier Edwards did most of the damage as Norristown buried 12 of 14 from the stripe in the final two minutes.
“The fourth quarter was a reflection of what we looked like when we were playing at our peak,” said King, a 6-foot-6 post player. “When we were 11-0, we played like that all four quarters. Somehow, it got away from us at some point this season.”
The Cougars wound up scoring 18 points in the fourth, but never reached double figures in any of the first three. East turned it over 15 times, had trouble keeping the Eagles off the offensive glass, and was outscored 23-9 at the charity stripe.
Goodman acknowledged that an erosion of confidence may have played a part in the late-season collapse. But he also noted that the Cougars started a freshman, a sophomore and a junior in key spots most of the season.
“This season has really been a roller coaster ride,” King said.
“Despite the last couple weeks, we did some things this year like tying the record for the most wins in a season in school history (14),” Goodman noted. “And we got to host a playoff game. We are just going to keep building.”
Playing in the final game of his career, Ryan Cahill chipped in 10 points for East. Edwards led Norristown with 15 points.
Norristown 51, Downingtown East 43
NORRISTOWN: McGowan 4 3-4 12; Lyons 1 0-0 2; Sanford 1 0-0 2; Clark 1 1-4 4; Dorman 0 8-8 8; Edwards 3 9-12 15; Allen 2 1-2 5; Greenwood 1 1-3 3. Totals 13 23-33 51.
DOWNINGTOWN EAST – Slay 6 1-2 13; Bertolami 0 1-2 1; Derocher 1 0-0 2; Stata 1 0-0 2; King 4 7 -11 15; Cahill 5 0-1 10. Totals 17 9-16 43.
Norristown 10 14 13 14 – 51
Downingtown East 9 7 9 18 – 43
Three-pointers: McGowan, Clark.