MIDDLETOWN >> Improbably, Wissahickon was in a position to possibly upset District 1-5A No. 3 seed Penncrest on the road.
Down six with 2:37 left, the Trojans had fought all the way back to force a tie game and had the ball with 7.5 seconds left, ready to take the last shot and possibly the win. All season, Penncrest has hung its hat on its ability to defend. Now, more than ever, that was going to be tested.
The Lions got their stop, the game went overtime and their electric junior guard Tyler Norwood did what he does best, scoring the go-ahead hoop to lead Penncrest to a 60-56 quarterfinal win Saturday night.
“It comes down to sometimes, the ball goes in or it doesn’t,” Trojans coach Kyle Wilson said. “They made a few more plays than we did and sometimes that’s the difference in the game. There were a lot of points where we could control that outcome, we had chances to win and sometimes it doesn’t come out the way you’d like it to.”
Norwood scored 30 points, including the 1,000th of his career, using his entire skillset to do so. The quick handle, the long 3-point shots, the drives, the ability to draw contact and even the gift of gab helped the undersized but deadly scorer go to work.
The first half was up-and-down basketball. Wiss jumped out to a 9-2 lead but Penncrest led 13-12 after one thanks to one of Norwood’s deep treys. The score at half was a 25-25 deadlock with Norwood scoring 14 and Wissahickon’s Zach Reiner having put in 13.
Reiner had a team-high 18 for Wissahickon and shot 6-of-12 from the floor but just 6-of-13 from the foul line. Still, he was able to get baskets and to the line against a physical Penncrest defense that guarded the Trojans very well as a unit.
“They’re a high-powered offense,” Penncrest coach Mike Doyle said. “They play in one of the toughest divisions around and their record doesn’t reflect how good they were. We made it a point the last two days of really working on their dribble drive offense, getting through screens, opening up and time and time again, we came up with big stops.”
Wissahickon came in as the No. 11 seed, but Norwood said the Trojans are much better than their seeding and it wasn’t a team the Lions could afford to overlook. Doyle said the idea was to not let one guy go off and while Reiner had 18, the Lions coach felt like his guys contested every look and made the junior forward’s night a tough one.
What makes the Trojans hard to plan for is that any guy can go off on a given night. Norwood said a focus was to stay in the face of Shane Ford and Max Rapoport, the two best Wissahickon shooters and also just keep bodies on the frontcourt guys like Reiner and Chaz Owens.
“They were very scrappy and good at getting out and getting a hand up on shots,” Wilson said. “I thought we did the same. In the second half, I felt we did a nice job defending Norwood and keeping him fairly in check. I couldn’t be upset with my guys. I know they wanted it really bad, but sometimes the other team makes a few more plays.”
Zach Gelman gave Wissahickon a 35-34 lead with 4:25 left in the third quarter, but Norwood would answer right back with a short jumper, then finding Mike Mallon for an easy layup. After Owens scored for Wiss, Penncrest got a big surge out of Justin Ross.
Ross, a 5-foot-10 senior, scored his team’s next seven points, giving the Lions a 45-39 lead with 1:07 left in the third. Donovan Oliphant, who played well off the bench for Wissahickon, buried a late 3-pointer to make it a three-point game going into the final period.
With the first three quarters a see-saw tilt, it wasn’t surprising the fourth went the same way. Owens was fouled on a put-back, getting the shot to drop but unable to convert the free throw to cut the lead to one.
After two foul shots by Penncrest forward Chris Mills, Norwood drove and as he is so adept at, drew contact to send him to the line. At the point, he got mixed up with a couple Wissahickon players, both sides chirped a bit and Wissahickon was assessed a technical foul.
Norwood went on to sink all four foul shots, two from being fouled and two from the tech, to put the Lions up 51-44 with 4:44 left. That’s when Wiss fought back, getting a big 3-pointer from Rapoport as part of an 8-1 run to tie the game 52-52 with 1:45 left.
Ross missed two free throws with 1:32 left, Wiss got the board and ran the clock down to 15.2 before calling timeout to set up a play for the last shot. It was time for Penncrest to make a stop.
“We were down seven games at halftime through the year where we came back and won,” Doyle said. “The idea is just to stay the course.”
Unfortunately for the Trojans, they turned it over in front of their bench. Wilson said there may have been a bump, but added it’s not something the refs are always going to call while Norwood said he thought the ballhandler just tripped himself up and lost the ball.
Penncrest couldn’t finish on the other end to force OT. Marlyn Johnson, who had three of his four steals in overtime, gave the Trojans a 56-54 lead until Norwood tied it at the line, scoring his 1,000th on the first free throw. A miss on a Wissahickon 1-and-1 set up Norwood for the winning basket, when he drove and dropped in a runner with 1:15 left.
“Coach told me to stop settling and go to the basket,” Norwood said. “I stopped settling and went to the basket. I was trying to draw a foul but I put it up there and it went in. That was it, that was the dagger for us.”
Penncrest’s defense closed it out, Mills sealed it with two more freebies and the Lions booked their trip to Temple for Wednesday’s semifinals.
Wissahickon, while disappointed, still has a chance to grab a state playoff spot. Seven 5A teams get to go, so the four losing sides on Saturday will play it back for three of them next week.
“We just have to make them understand the state tournament is still a reality,” Wilson said. “If this is the No. 3 seed, we’ve also played PW and Cheltenham so we can play with any of these teams. Let’s use it to get into the next tournament.”
Penncrest 60, Wissahickon 56 (OT)
Wissahickon 12 13 17 10 4 – 56
Penncrest 13 12 20 7 8 – 60
Wissahickon: Chaz Owens 3 1-3 7, Zach Gelman 1 2-3 5, Max Rapoport 1 0-0 3, Shane Ford 5 0-0 12, Zach Reiner 6 6-13 18, Donovan Oliphant 2 2-2 8, Marlyn Johnson 1 1-2 3. Nonscoring: Alex Tappen, Eddie Fortescue. Totals: 19 12-23 56.
Penncrest: Tyler Norwood 6 14-16 30, Manny Ruffin 1 0-0 2, Chris Mills 0 6-6 6, Justin Ross 3 0-4 7, Mike Mallon 4 3-4 11, Matt Arbogast 1 0-0 2. Nonscoring: Heidig, Williams. Totals: 15 23-30 60.
3-pointers: W – Ford 2, Oliphant 2, Gelman, Rapoport; P – Norwood 4, Ross.