MIDDLETOWN >> Solely paging through boxscores, it’s tempting to write off Penncrest as merely Tyler Norwood and a cast of supporting players.
The explosive junior guard is the only Lion averaging in double-figures this season. His 23.2 points per game account for 45.6 percent of the team’s scoring.
But it’s rare that the one-man-team paradigm carries as far as Penncrest has ventured this year. As the Lions prepare for the District 1 Class 5A final Saturday afternoon at Villanova, the imperative for No. 8 seed Upper Merion will involve more than simply bottling up Norwood.
Offensively, at least, the “Norwood as everything” storyline largely holds. He scored 21 of the team’s 41 points in the semifinal win over Great Valley and 30 of 60 in banishing Wissahickon in overtime in the semis. He’s tallied 50 percent or more of his team’s points in 10 of the Lions’ 26 games this season.
Success by that blueprint still requires sizeable contributions elsewhere — 9.1 points per game from Justin Ross, 8.1 from Mike Mallon — but with Norwood also handling the point, his offensive threat opens opportunities. When Penncrest is on, everything flows from Norwood.
But that’s only one aspect of the game, and the defensive side of the ball offers Penncrest a greater chance to get everyone involved.
“I think it all starts with all the work the coaches put in with scouting, and then translating that on the defensive end like we did against Great Valley and going out and playing our hardest on the defensive end,” Ross said. “We know we have someone like Ty on the offensive end to carry us. We can carry Ty on the defensive end, and I think that’s how it all comes together and we play well together as a team.”
On the one hand, you can read the 41-33 win over Great Valley as Norwood’s outsized scoring effort. Or you can decipher it through the lens of Penncrest’s defense ensuring Norwood’s production was enough.
That latter perspective is valid, too. The Lions permit opponents just 44.2 points per game. Only seven have cracked 50 points, and just one has scored more than 60.
Their stinginess owes to comfort with their roles on both ends of the court.
“Ty does great on offense, so it lets us do our job on defense for him,” forward Chris Mills said. “We get stops, we get him the ball and he scores. It’s a perfect combination.”
Several Lions, foremost among them Mills and Manny Ruffin, have forged their reputations on the defensive end. Even with obvious height limitations — no one on the roster stands taller than 6-foot-3 — the Lions have succeeded against taller lineups.
Against Upper Merion (16-9), they’ll face a tall task, namely 6-foot-8 Matt Faw. The forward, who has garnered Division I interest, scored 20 points as the Vikings ousted Strath Haven in the opener and 23 in downing Chester in the quarterfinals.
The Vikings have several other frontline options that stand 6-6, but Faw is the focal point, much like Norwood at the other end.
“Me and Manny are up for it,” Mills said. “We always like the challenge. We started out the season guarding 6-8 kids in tournaments and over the summer, so we’re used to it now. We started with 6-8, we’re going to end with 6-8.”
Ross readily admits that the goal for this season was to get to the semifinal at Temple, guaranteeing the Lions a states berth in the first year of the reconfigured Class 5A. Playing for a title at Villanova is admittedly the bonus.
“We’re enjoying the moment, but we’re not just happy to be here,” Ross said. “We know we can do it, so no we’re going to try to go get it.”
The No. 3 Lions will wear home white Saturday. But will they feel like the favorite? Not exactly, but then the underdog tag doesn’t suit them either.
“We’re going in to play our best,” said Mills. “We’re not trying to be cocky; we’re not going to doubt ourselves either. Just going in with the same mindset we’ve been going into every game: Just do our best and hopefully the outcome will be the best.”
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