CHELTENHAM >> The senior-laden Upper Merion boys basketball team wasn’t ready for its season to end in the first round of the PIAA Class 5A Tournament.
The Vikings trailed by seven late in the first half and were struggling to get stops on the defensive end. They scored the final four points before halftime and their defense came out on fire after the break.
(1-2) Upper Merion dominated the third quarter and blew away (3-5) Greencastle-Antrim, 62-46, Friday night at Cheltenham High School to earn the school’s first state playoff win since 1993.
From the final minute of the first half until there was just 4:29 left in the game, the Vikings went on a 31-5 run, turning a seven-point deficit into a commanding 52-33 lead, their largest of the night.
“You look up and they’re stuck on 33 for a little bit,” Upper Merion coach Jason Quenzer said. “I looked at my assistant coach John (Armenio) and said, ‘This is what we needed all game from the tip.’ I don’t really know particularly where it was, but they all pulled it out from one another in the locker room.”
Senior guard Aidan Newell put the Vikings ahead, 31-30, with two free throws midway through the third quarter and they never trailed again.
Matt Faw took over from there. The senior Holy Cross commit scored 19 of his game-high 23 points in the second half.
The defense is what sparked the Vikings to mount the game-changing run. After allowing 17 points in the first quarter, the team allowed 18 points in the entire second half. They forced 13 second-half turnovers after just two in the opening 16 minutes.
“It was all effort,” Quenzer said. “Effort-based and attitude. Everybody will tell you that’s what defense is. That’s how we’re going to be able to win this game — if we step up our defense. They went out with a different attitude. Obviously when some buckets fall early, you get a steal or two, then the momentum — they just carry — which credit to them they didn’t give back, which we have done before.”
While the defense was struggling in the first two quarters, it was senior Ethan Miller keeping Upper Merion close. The 6-foot-7 forward scored 14 of his 20 points in the first half. All of his points came under the basket where he out-muscled Blue Devils defenders.
Brian Gembe led Greencastle-Antrim in scoring with 11 points. Ben Freeman added nine and Brandon Stuhler and Ian Gelsinger each contributed eight.
Upper Merion will face (3-1) Northeastern Tuesday at a time and location to be determined.
Upper Merion 62, Greencastle-Antrim 46
Greencastle-Antrim 17 11 5 13 — 46
Upper Merion 15 10 20 17 — 62
Greencastle-Antrim: Stuhler 2 4-5 8, Freeman 3 0-0 9, Gelsinger 3 0-0 8, Hoover 3 0-0 7, Robinson 1 0-0 3, Gembe 4 2-4 11. Total 16 6-9 46.
Upper Merion: Persaud 2 2-2 7, Newell 2 2-2 6, Breece 3 0-1 6, Miller 10 0-0 20, Faw 9 3-6 23. Total 26 7-11 62.
Three-point goals: GA: Freeman 3, Gelsinger 2, Hoover, Robinson, Gembe. UM: Persaud, Faw 2.
TOP PHOTO: Upper Merion’s Joseph Breece makes a pass over Greencastle-Antrims Ian Gelsinger in their PIAA Class 5A first round game on Friday, March 10 , 2017. (Gene Walsh/Digital First Media)