RADNOR >> Matt Faw caught the ball with 3.6 seconds left, rose up and fired.
On the way down, he went down, tangled up with Penncrest defender Manny Ruffin. His shot however, did not go down and the Vikings were still trailing the Lions.
Upper Merion saw a late lead evaporate thanks to Tyler Norwood’s heroics as Penncrest rallied to defeat the Vikings 39-37 in the District 1 boys 5A championship game Saturday afternoon at Villanova.
“They did well on double teams and stuff like that and took away the looks we usually had,” Faw said. “They played well in their rotations.”
Neither team shot particularly well in the first half, but Penncrest had the lead at 15-14 thanks to eight points from Norwood.
Norwood, the electric Penncrest junior, scored 26 points with half of them coming in the final quarter of play. Only three players scored for the Lions, but with their leader making big shot after big shot, it was all they needed.
Upper Merion threw several different defenders at Norwood, but he got the shots he wanted all game long.
“We took a big lead in the third and I thought we could ride that momentum,” Upper Merion coach Jason Quenzer said. “But credit to Norwood, that kid is a stud. They played good defense down the stretch to win that game too.”
The Vikings got a lift offensively from senior Andrew Persaud in the first and third quarters. Persaud, a 5-foot-11 guard, canned a pair of 3-pointers in each of those quarters, his third period makes sparking a 16-8 UM frame that gave the Vikings a 30-23 lead.
Upper Merion, the tournament’s No. 8 seed, ripped off the first 11 points of the second half and was containing Penncrest outside of Norwood. Then he started making shots.
“The way he was shooting, I don’t think you can do anything,” Faw said. “His release off the dribble, you can’t do anything about that. Honestly, when we were letting him go to the basket, that was working more than him shooting outside so if I had to go play him again, I’d say let him beat you off the dribble and go to the basket because he wasn’t able to do as much damage in there.
“Look, he’s a great player and that pull-up jumpshot, you can’t stop it.”
While Norwood was heating up in the fourth, the Vikings were starting to come apart. All game, the Lions prevented Faw, the 6-foot-8 Holy Cross recruit, from getting the ball in the post despite his decided height advantage.
Faw gave plenty of credit to the No.3 Lions’ defensive rotations.
“We took a page out of John Wooden’s handbook when it came to doubling the post,” Lions coach Mike Doyle said. “We were doubling the pass, which is very risky, but we had to sell out. We couldn’t let them beat us inside. We’re not going to score a lot of points and our defense has to keep us in it.”
A 3-pointer by Norwood pulled Penncrest within 32-31 with 6:22 to play, but the Vikings scored the next four points to take a 36-31 edge with 3:10 to play. Then Norwood scored with 2:33 left, setting off the pivotal series of possessions.
Upper Merion missed a 3-point shot, then Norwood came down and buried a trey off a Justin Ross assist with 1:37 left. The Vikings turned it over on their next possession and a driving Norwood drew a foul on Faw with 41.7 left on the clock.
The guard buried both, giving the Lions their first lead since halftime at 38-37. As Upper Merion tried to set up a play, an errant pass went right to Lions forward Chris Mills with 8.5 seconds left and he was immediately fouled.
Mills missed the front end of the 1-and-1, the Vikings got the rebound and moved it down the floor before a Penncrest deflection forced an inbound with 3.6 left on the clock.
On the pass, Faw caught the ball just inside the 3-point line and fired up the shot.
“It was open, usually I make them,” Faw said. “There was enough time left, I could have taken a dribble and tried to get to the rim. But that’s hindsight 20/20 vision.”
What was toughest for the Vikings to take was the fact they knew they could have played better.
“We have to get back to playing our style of basketball and just do us,” Faw said. “We were shooting way too many 3s tonight. We have to try and get the ball in the paint.”
“It’s a tough position for anybody to be in and stay cool,” Quenzer said. “You could say it was a little frantic.”
For Upper Merion, which withstood the bulk of its season sans Faw, Saturday’s loss stung but it wasn’t the end. UM will face Greencastle-Antrim out of District 3 in the first round of states next weekend.
“These guys have persevered through,” Quenzer said. “I think they’ll be able to do the same thing. They’ll feel this loss, but they’ll collect themselves and comeback re-focused with a new goal.”
Penncrest 39, Upper Merion 37
Upper Merion 11 3 16 7 – 37
Penncrest 8 7 8 16 – 39
Upper Merion: Aiden Newell 1 0-0 2, Joe Breece 1 3-4 5, Ethan Miller 4 1-6 9, Matt Faw 4 1-3 9, Andrew Persaud 4 0-0 12. Nonscoring: Sheppard, Biegalski. Totals: 14 5-13 37.
Penncrest: Tyler Norwood 9 4-4 26, Justin Ross 3 0-0 8, Mike Mallon 1 3-4 5. Nonscoring: Ruffin, Mills, Arbogast, Williams. Totals: 13 7-8 39.
Top Photo: Penncrest’s Tyler Norwood (0) puts a shot up and is fouled by Upper Merion’s Matt Faw (33) in the closing seconds as the Lions held on to win the District 1-5A championship, defeating Upper Merion at the Pavilion on Saturday, March 4, 2017. (Pete Bannan/Digital First Media)