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Penncrest’s tough first-half defense shuts down Stoga

Middletown >> Undefeated Penncrest relied on its trademark defense in the first half to defeat visiting Conestoga, 67-55, Tuesday evening in Central League boys’ basketball action.

Penncrest head coach Mike Doyle said, “To hold a high-powered offense like Conestoga to 12 points in the first half like we did tonight is unbelieveable. We’ve really been hanging our hat on our defensive effort, on the fact that we’ve been giving up only 41 points per game.”

PHOTOS: Penncrest vs. Conestoga

The Lions (11-0, 8-0) outscored the Pioneers 18-3 in the second quarter to take a 32-12 halftime lead.

“[Senior forward] Chris Mills helping on Conestoga’s shooters was unbelieveable,” said Doyle. “His defensive effort tonight was one of the best that I’ve ever seen. He’s a defensive wizard, able to help against their shooters and then get back on his man.”

Penncrest turned red-hot early in the second quarter, starting the period on a 14-0 run to take a 28-9 lead against Conestoga (6-4, 3-3). The run began when junior Isaiah Rice got open for a couple of baskets, then a Conestoga miss from outside was followed by junior forward Matt Arbogast working his way inside for a score. After the Pioneers missed from inside, senior all-state guard Tyler Norwood nailed a trey despite tight Conestoga defense, then a minute later Norwood fed Arbogast inside to make it 28-9.

Norwood, who finished with 28 points, said, “Conestoga likes to push the ball, but I think we pushed it better in the second quarter. We were able to get down the court [quickly], and when guys would key on me, other guys would step up for us, get open and make shots, and we went on a run.

“Their point guard [Conestoga’s Zach Lezanic] is really quick, so they want to get him downcourt and get him the ball, but we pushed back on defense. Whatever [defense] Coach [Doyle] puts on that board, we just take exactly what’s on that board and just put it on this court.”

With 4:47 left in the third quarter, Arbogast really brought the home crowd to its feet when he intercepted a Conestoga pass at midcourt, drove to the basket, and dunked the ball to give the hosts a 37-16 lead.

“Arbogast has never dunked it in practice or a game,” said Doyle. “That’s why I think it took everybody by surprise.”

Later in the third quarter, Conestoga began to find its scoring touch, led by a couple of treys from Lezanic, who finished with 15 second-half points. The Pioneers scored 27 points in the final quarter, with 20 of them them coming from the trio of Lezanic, junior forward Milton Robinson and senior forward Michael Erickson.

Conestoga head coach Mike Troy said, “I think we came out rusty early tonight. Credit Penncrest, they played good for four quarters. I think we forced our offense too much in the first half, we were a little too individualistic. In the second half, we played together more, both on offense and defense.

“We’re not a finished product, and there’s a lot of season still to play. I think we learned a lesson tonight, and we have a lot of growth to accomplish this season.”

For Penncrest, other than Norwood’s 28 points, the remaining scoring was evenly balanced between Mills (nine points), Arbogast (nine), junior forward Malcolm Williams (eight), Rice (seven) and senior guard Justin Heidig (six).

Doyle said, “I think you’ve got to give [our] guys credit. After winning the district title last year, you’ve got a huge bulls-eye on your back, and this team just responds to it. They’ve met each challenge, they don’t let distractions like the weather and missed practices stop them. They’re a very fun group to coach.”

Also in the Central League:

Strath Haven 51, Lower Merion 50 >> Ryan Morris scored 17 points, including the game-winning floater as time expired to lead the Panthers to an upset over the Aces.

Cooper Driscoll added 14 points and 10 rebounds for Haven (6-5, 3-5).

Steve Payne paced the Aces with 24 points.

Garnet Valley 90, Harriton 67 >> Greg Vlassopoulos notched a career-high with 18 points and pulled down 14 rebounds, and Austin Laughlin scored 14 of his 21 points in the first half as the Jags battered the Rams’ full-court press with a season-high point total.

Connor O’Brien splashed home four 3-pointers for 24 points for the Jags (8-3, 5-2), who have won six straight.

Springfield 51, Ridley 46 >> Kyle Long scored 14 points and went 9-for-10 at the line in the fourth quarter to seal the win.

Mike Webb scored 13 points, and Ja’Den McKenzie and Mike Conran scored seven each, McKenzie pocketing a crucial steal late for the Cougars (5-6, 5-2).

Enoch Clark paced Ridley (5-6, 2-4) with 16 points. Malachi Williams tossed in 13.

Upper Darby 71, Marple Newtown 61 >> Diby Keita scored a season-best 17 points, including eight in the fourth quarter, and Magd Abdelwahab buried four 3-pointers for 16 points as the Royals (8-3, 4-3) posted a quintet of double-figures scorers.

Jalun Trent (13 points), Floyd Wedderburn (12) and Mamadou Toure (11) also had big days for UD.

Mike May scored 22 points to go with five assists for Marple (5-6, 2-5), which got 16 points from Tommy Gardler and 11 from Anthony Paoletti.

Haverford 57, Radnor 42 >> The Fords rebounded superbly to being limited to just 18 points in their last outing, posting their second-highest output of the season behind 11 points from Dan Roe. John Seidman added 10 points, and JT Smyth chipped in nine for the Fords (4-7, 2-5).

Vernon Harper led Radnor (2-7, 0-5) with 13 points and 11 rebounds.

Penncrest 67, Conestoga 55
CONESTOGA: Scott 3 1-2 7, Lezanic 5 2-2 15, Robinson 5 3-4 14, McFillin 1 1-1 3, Medley 0 1-2 1, Schappell 1 1-3 3, Brace 0 1-2 1, Erickson 4 3-3 11, Martin 0 0-0 0. Totals 19 13-19 55.
PENNCREST: Norwood 10 6-9 28, Mills 4 1-4 9, Arbogast 4 1-3 9, Heidig 1 3-4 6, Williams 4 0-0 8, Rice 2 2-3 7, Antonelli 0 0-0 0, Bittle 0 0-0 0, Carroll 0 0-0 0. Totals 25 13-23 67.
Conestoga 9 3 16 27 – 55
Penncrest 14 18 14 21 – 67
3-point goals: Conestoga – Lezanic 3, Robinson; Penncrest – Norwood 2, Heidig, Rice.

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