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Norwood’s furious finish ensures Penncrest’s first title since ’69

RADNOR >> Every fan in attendance at the Pavilion Saturday afternoon knew where the ball was going when Penncrest pushed it up the court, trailing in the fourth quarter to No. 8 seed Upper Merion.

Knowing Tyler Norwood would be in control and stopping him is two entirely different things, as the Penncrest guard demonstrated.

Penncrest ‘s Justin Ross celebrates as the final seconds ticks off in the District 1 Class 5A Championship against Upper Merion at the Pavillion Saturday afternoon. Penncrest won, 39-37. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

The junior phenom scored 13 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter, including the go-ahead free throws with 41.7 seconds left as the No. 3 seed Lions won the District 1 Class 5A title, 39-37.

With points at a premium under the bright lights at Villanova, no one demanded the spotlight like Norwood, as Penncrest (20-7) scored 19 of the game’s final 26 points. Thirteen were supplied by Norwood.

“It gives me a lot of confidence,” Norwood said. “I think that I can just come down, hit a guy with a move and pull up over top of him with a shot. After I miss a couple, my teammates keep me motivated. … It means a lot being the top guy to go to at the end-of-game situation.”

The feeling is surely reciprocal after Norwood’s virtuosity earned Penncrest its first district title since 1969.
The Vikings led 30-20 late in the third quarter before Justin Ross canned his second 3-pointer of the game. A jumper by Mike Mallon to open the fourth winnowed the margin to two possessions.

The rest, until Mallon’s free throw with less than a second left, was Norwood.

He nailed back-to-back 3s to bring Penncrest within one at 32-31. Then the Lions went cold with five straight empty possessions until a Norwood deuce clawed within 37-33 with 2 minutes, 31 seconds left.

Norwood drained a step-back 3 with a minute to play, followed by an ill-advised Upper Merion 3-pointer from Andrew Persaud that handed possession back to the Lions. Off an in-bounds, Norwood broke loose to the glass and was fouled by Matt Faw, then calmly flicked in two free throws to put Penncrest up one with 41.7 seconds left.

PHOTO GALLERY: Penncrest vs. Upper Merion

“There’s a lot of faith,” Mallon said of Norwood. “He’s versatile. You can always trust him with the ball. You never have to worry about him missing shots or being off.”

All that was left was a final turning of the screws on defense. Chris Mills picked off a telegraphed pass for the Holy Cross commit Faw but missed the front end of the one-and-one with 8.5 seconds left.

Penncrest’s Mike Mallon, right, is called for a charge on Upper Merion’s Matt Faw in the second of the the Lion’s 39-37 win in the District 1 Class 5A final Saturday. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

“We know exactly where the ball was going, either Faw or (Ethan Miller),” Mills said. “We knew it was coming, so that’s why I went out and stole it.”

Two sloppy attempts at offense led to an inbounds play and heave by Faw, the rebound hauled in by Mallon.
The refs, struggling to tread water, decided that .5 ticks remained, mere formality before Norwood could dash into the stands to hug his family and rejoice with teammates.

Norwood shouldered more of the load than usual, even for him, with only Ross (eight points) and Mallon (five) scoring for Penncrest. But that left plenty of room for contributors on defense.

In particular, Faw was completely muzzled after halftime. Hs scored nine points to go with 12 rebounds, four blocks and three assists. But his off-balance prayer at the buzzer was his first field-goal attempt of the fourth, deterred by Penncrest’s stout defense and disconnected from the Vikings’ offensive rhythm.

“They just knew the right guy, they knew the right guy to send to double the post,” Faw said. “That’s why you think they’re coming, and then they come out of nowhere and strip the ball from you. That doesn’t come naturally; that comes from hours of practice.”

“Chris and Manny (Ruffin) didn’t score, but they did play defense,” Norwood said. “And I give a lot of credit to them for playing defense. So kudos to them for strapping up on 6-8 and 6-6 and 6-5.”

Ethan Miller and Faw, the Vikings’ bigs, scored nine points apiece. But the Vikings were 0-for-7 from 3 beyond Persaud (and even he air-balled a pair of fourth-quarter attempts) while shooting a costly 5-for-12 from the line, including 1-for-5 by Miller.

The paucity of offense reflects a nervy game, one waiting for someone to take over and shift the balance. Norwood is one of the best around at bending a game to his will, and on the biggest stage, he delivered Saturday.

“It means a lot,” Norwood said. “I give a lot of credit to Coach (Mike) Doyle. He puts us in situations where whatever he puts on that board, we put on this court and we get the job done.”

“It’s overwhelming,” Mallon said. “It’s all the hard work we put in finally paying off. And it’s a great feeling to have and a great experience.”

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