ABINGTON >> A win is a win, especially in the postseason.
After being upset in its own gym in the first round of the district tournament last season, it was not a big surprise that Abington’s boys basketball team had some nerves coming out for Tuesday’s second round District 1-6A game against Norristown. Yes it was the second round, but it was the No. 3 seed Ghosts’ first game of the playoffs after a first-round bye.
It wasn’t a pretty game, but Abington weathered the storm early and then took advantage of its size and a cold-shooting Eagles team to pick up a 48-32 win, sending the Ghosts into the quarterfinals and clinching a state playoff bid.
“Nerves, nerves, nerves, nerves, especially with what happened last year,” Abington’s sophomore big man Eric Dixon said. “I’m pretty sure it was in the back of everyone’s mind but once we got through it and got comfortable, we started to play our game.”
Norristown, the No. 19 seed coming off an upset of Downingtown West, wasn’t afraid of going into a road gym and coming after the hosts. For the first five or so minutes, the Eagles owned the glass, tapping and bouncing the ball around off misses and generally coming down with rebounds despite a size disadvantage.
But the Eagles couldn’t make a shot, both early on and for most of the first half. Abington wasn’t much better and neither team was particularly clean with the ball. Norristown isn’t big, but the Eagles are long and they’re scrappy. That’s enough to fluster any team, even one with Abington’s resume.
— Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3) February 22, 2017
What upset-minded Norristown couldn’t do was score enough. Norristown shot 13-of-43 for the game.
“Their size played a major part down there, they altered a couple shots and we forced a couple shots,” Norristown coach Mike Evans said. “We didn’t shoot well from the field or the foul line and when they made a mistake, we didn’t capitalize. We’d force a turn over, go down the floor and then turn the ball back over, we didn’t take care of the ball tonight.”
Norristown was led by seven points from Mickeel Allen, with Kuron Clark and Xavier Edwards each chipping in six.
Each side committed 11 first-half turnovers, leading to a lot of frantic up-and-down play that didn’t end with any kind of scoring, alluding to what Evans talked about. Abington ended the night with 21 turnovers, a high number the Ghosts don’t often get close to and Evans said he was happy with the way his team defended.
Abington coach Charles Grasty said the high number of turnovers was a credit to Norristown’s scrappy style and energy.
“They use their length well,” Grasty said. “I thought that especially in the second half, our energy was a lot higher. The first half, I don’t know if the big crowd got to us a little bit. We rushed a lot of shots early but we settled down.”
Dixon scored a game-high 21 points to lead Abington while junior guard Robbie Heath added 18 in quiet but very efficient effort. Heath, who now stands 20 points away from joining his father Robert “Tiger” Heath in Abington’s 1,000-point club, shot 5-of-7 from the floor and 7-of-7 from the foul line.
But the Aussie guard felt it was his team’s defense, and not his and Dixon’s offense, that was the difference in the game. Heath had five steals, Rob Young had four, Lucas Monroe had three and Dixon even had two while on the back end, senior Joe O’Brien had four blocks and Dixon got a hand on a pair of Norristown attempts.
“We had 19 steals (as a team), so picking up our pressure made us go on a little run,” Heath said. “Coach always says don’t let any team come in here and play harder than you and I think after we got through the jitters and we started to play harder than them, that’s when we got a flow going in the game.”
Heath and Dixon each scored five points as part of an 11-3 run to close the first half and Abington held the Eagles without a field goal for the last 6:48 of the frame. Norristown was aggressive, but it couldn’t do much to keep Abington off the glass, with Dixon and O’Brien combining for 11 offensive rebounds.
Sophomore Lucas Monroe, who had a tough night offensively, provided Abington some stability on the glass with seven rebounds and with his defense. The Ghosts get key contributions from their supporting cast each night, and it doesn’t go unnoticed. Heath said Abington wouldn’t even be in the position to host two playoff games if wasn’t for the work of guys like Young, Monroe and O’Brien.
— Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3) February 22, 2017
O’Brien battled some foul trouble, but his impact on the defensive end has been steady all season and Norristown had no answer for him when he was in. Dixon, for all his polish on offense, isn’t quite there on the other end and he knows O’Brien will be there to back him up.
“You know, I need that, I really do need that,” Dixon said. “Defense is one of the things I’ve really been trying to get better at. Joe, for him to be our defensive stalwart and our defensive anchor, I really appreciate all the work he does.”
The Ghosts led 22-11 at half, then got a big offensive third quarter from Dixon to take a 35-19 lead into the final frame, which they maintained for the last eight minutes.
Abington will host Penn Wood, which upset No. 6 Pennsbury on Tuesday, in Friday’s quarterfinal round. Norristown drops into the eight-team playback bracket with the final two District I bids to the state tournament at stake.
“We just have to put this behind us and come back tomorrow at practice and get ready,” Evans said. “I told the guys, we have to capitalize on their mistakes. As a team, we’re not a great team yet so we have to capitalize on every mistake, every 50-50 ball and every loose ball and we didn’t do that tonight.”
Abington 48, Norristown 32
Norristown 6 5 8 13 – 32
Abington 11 11 13 13 – 48
Norristown: Darius McGowan 2 1-2 5, Kuron Clark 3 0-0 6, Xavier Edwards 2 2-4 6, Mickeel Allen 3 1-6 7, Marquiese Greenwood 1 0-0 2, Michael Doorman 1 0-0 2, Tyler Lyons 1 2-2 4. Totals: 13 6-14 32
Abington: Rob Young 0 1-2 1, Robbie Heath 5 7-7 18, Lucas Monroe 1 0-0 2, Joe O’Brien 1 1-2 3, Eric Dixon 7 6-8 21, Bryan Coffman 1 0-0 3. Nonscoring: Eric Dougherty, Brandon Coffman, Darious Brown, John Gary Masseyy III, Jonah Canada, Bobby Scholly. Totals: 15 15-19 48
3-pointers: A – Heath, Dixon.
Top Photo: Abington’s Robbie Heath scores against Norristown during their District 1-6A second round game on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. (Debby High/For Digital First Media)