BENSALEM >> With five-and-a-half minutes left in the third quarter, Abington looked like the team that had been running on all cylinders the last month.
But underneath the Ghosts’ 15-point lead at the time, there were some signs things weren’t quite right. Then, Central Dauphin East finally got its press to work, went on a run and Abington wasn’t the same for the rest of the game.
It was a very uncharacteristic Abington performance and it’s a big reason why it was the Panthers and not the Ghosts celebrating a 64-63 overtime win in the first round of the PIAA 6A boys basketball tournament Saturday afternoon at Bensalem.
“We took some uncharacteristic shots when we were up 15, but these kids, when we’re up 15, they want to go up 20,” Abington coach Charles Grasty said. “With a good team like (CD East), you have to settle down and run some stuff. I should have done a better job of putting them in position to slow it down a little bit. They went on that 9-0 run and we probably could have used a couple more timeouts.”
Abington started slow and trailed 12-5 with three minutes left in the first quarter but got themselves back into the game and trailed by just two after a quarter. Toward the end of that first quarter, Eric Dixon started to get into a rhythm and that carried over into the second period.
The Ghosts, or more specifically Dixon and Robbie Heath, went off in the second, combining for 20 points as they took a 32-22 lead into the half. Yet, even at the half, the Ghosts had missed four free throws and had made a couple of silly turnovers they had avoided most of the year.
It didn’t seem to matter too much though as Abington opened the second half with a Rob Young to Joe O’Brien alley-oop dunk, then built their lead up to 40-25 with 5:30 left in the frame.
“Give credit to Central Dauphin, they stuck with it, they were down 15 and could have put their heads down but they kept fighing,” Grasty said. “We’ve been pressured all year, teams have pressed us all year but we definitely turned the ball over more than normal. We had (18) turnovers, we’ve been averaging 10 turnovers a year and some at crucial spots.”
Where CDE couldn’t get its trap to work at all in the first half, it got to go off almost perfectly in the second. The Panthers, who sported an athletic lineup with good size, moved well with the ball and covered a lot of court very quickly.
Despite seeing pressure all season, and even in the last two rounds of districts, Abington’s ball handlers suddenly had very little room to move, dribble and especially think.
“We panicked a little bit,” Grasty said. “We stopped going to Eric as much as we wanted to. We wanted to give Dixon the ball a little more. They took us out of our stuff and we allowed them to.”
Of course, Abington couldn’t get the ball to Dixon if it couldn’t get the ball over halfcourt. The Panthers used a 9-0 run, with a 3-pointer by Justin Henry and a dunk by DJ Cooper in the middle, to chop the Ghosts’ lead to 40-34 in less than two minutes.
“All that was going through my mind was the last time this team won a (district) championship, we lost in the first round (of states) so I think we were more focused on not repeating old history moreso than writing new history,” Dixon said. “I’m just as motivated as last year coming off another one-point loss. I feel bad for my seniors, this year we were really close, we hang out all the time off the court. To lose this with my guys and my seniors, that hurts the most.”
Dixon wasn’t on that last state team, but he was on last year’s team that lost by one to Upper Dublin in the first round of districts. He said that loss helped motivate Abington’s run to SOL National, SOL tournament and District I titles this year and hopes this loss can do the same for the state title next year.
As to what CD East did to get the Ghosts out of their element, the sophomore couldn’t point to one thing. He did feel it was a lot more on Abington than it was on the Panthers but added that after the 9-0 run, “we weren’t the same.”
Henry tied the game 54-54 with 4:10 left in the fourth and Abington really hurt itself at the line. The Ghosts missed eight free throws in the fourth quarter and overtime with the usually automatic Heath missing five of them. Heath missed a pair with 1:47 left in regulation, but came back on the other end with a steal.
As he drove the floor and went up for a shot, a trailing defender came down hard on Heath, going across his face and taking the guard to the floor. The referee making the called it a standard foul and rationale that the fouling player made contact with the ball, despite the otherwise excessive amount of contact. Heath did make both and with 1.5 left in the game, he drove into the lane and hit his patented runner to force a 59-59 tie and send the game to overtime.
CD East left the door wide open by bricking six free throws in the extra period, but Abington couldn’t find a way to capitalize. The Ghosts took just four shots in the fourth quarter and couldn’t get their turnover or free-throw shooting issues under control long enough to take advantage.
“That hurt us, we’ve been knocking them down all year,” Grasty said. “They didn’t drop today and it forced us to scramble a bit and play a style we don’t like to play. It was a one-point game, we fought, they fought and they were able to win.
“We’ll learn from it. We’re sad to see our seniors go, but we’re still pretty young. We’ll take a couple weeks off then get back to work.”
Central Dauphin East 64, Abington 63
Abington 12 20 15 12 4 – 63
Central Dauphin East 14 8 17 20 5 – 64
Abington: Rob Young 0 4-4 4, Robbie Heath 5 9-17 19, Lucas Monroe 2 0-0 4, Joe O’Brien 2 1-4 5, Eric Dixon 11 9-11 31. Nonscoring: Eric Dougherty, Darious Brown. Totals: 24 23-31 63.
Central Dauphin East: Hawthorne 1 0-0 3, Henry 5 0-3 14, Cooper 3 0-0 6, Chandler 5 6-8 16, Jackson 5 0-2 10, Danner 1 1-3 3, McCraw 1 3-4 5, Gillis 1 0-0 3. Totals: 22 10-19 64.
3-pointers: CDE – Henry 4, Gillis, Hawthorne.