Philadelphia >> If the Lower Merion boys’ basketball team would like to enjoy a post-season run, they have to make sure and embrace the Next Man Up philosophy coach Gregg Downer has instilled throughout his tenure.
“You never know when your number will be called,” said Downer. “When it is, you are expected to perform. The culture and attitude we have created is strong and it will need to stay that way moving forward.”
LM junior Steve Payne added, “Anyone’s number can be called which is why it’s important for everyone to prepare and work hard. If your number is called you need to be ready.”
With Matt O’Connor slowly returning to line-up following an injury suffered during pre-season and Theo Henry sidelined with a fractured foot suffered during pre-season, the next man up philosophy has been paramount for the Aces early season success.
Over the winter break, Lower Merion took part in the 13th annual Pete and Jameer Nelson Classic taking on Academy Park Dec. 29 at Jefferson University (formerly Philadelphia University) before tipping off against Coatesville the following day at Widener University.
Against Academy Park, Lower Merion fell behind 17-10 after one quarter of play before settling in and closing the first half on a 9-0 run courtesy of three three-pointers including one by Payne right before the buzzer to take a 33-27 lead.
The Aces emerged from the locker room and picked up where they left off opening a 15-point lead en route to the 57-47 win. Leading the way were Jack Forest and Steve Payne with 26 and 14 points, respectively.
“We didn’t have a lot of energy initially,” Downer said following the Academy Park game. “Maybe we had trouble adjusting to the 12:15 start. Our energy got better as the game went on and we turned things around thanks in large part to Steve (Payne) and Jack (Forest) who had some big moments and carried us. They are key.”
Against Coatesville, Lower Merion got down early but never quit which has always been a staple of Lower Merion basketball. The Aces would tie the game at 52-52 before the Red Raiders eventually earned the hard-fought 60-55 win.
Prior to the winter break, the Aces possessed a 5-1 record with their lone blemish coming against Central League rival Conestoga. With juniors Jack Forrest and Steve Payne providing the leadership needed, Lower Merion has also received key contributions from juniors Darryl Taylor, Julian Hairston, Josh Martin and seniors Harrison Klevan, Jared Robinson and Zach Slogoff.
“Right now “I’m struggling to find players ‘5’ through ‘9’ right now,” Downer said. “My rotations are a little off, we’re just searching for the correct chemistry and we haven’t really found it yet. So that’s going to be important moving forward, to settle on some rotation.”
“I mean, [we’re] 6-2, we can’t get too negative here,” Downer said. “For the most part…we’re off to a good start.”
Forest added, “We’re off to a good start and the team is working well together. We’re missing a couple of key players but other guys have stepped up off the bench and that’s been key.”
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