CHELTENHAM >> Robbie Heath has a theory about the rims in Cheltenham’s gym.
In two state playoff games there, the Abington senior has noticed the rim the home team shoots on in the second half seems kinder than the one it shoots on in the first half. True or not, Heath certainly made it look that way as he attacked and finished with consistency in the second half Saturday.
Thanks to a big day from him and Eric Dixon, Heath can cross one really big thing off his career to-do list.
The Galloping Ghosts defeated Harrisburg 61-57 in the first round of the PIAA 6A boys basketball playoffs, the first state win for anyone on the current roster.
“I’ve never been here before but if I ended my senior year with another first-round exit, I don’t how I would have lived with myself,” Heath said. “I’m glad we got past this chapter. We were laidback and wanted stuff to come to us, so in the second half we really attacked them.”
Heath scored 15 of his 23 points in the second half, including a personal 7-0 spurt in the fourth quarter that ended with a steal into a two-handed reverse dunk that finally gave Abington some breathing room. The Ghosts are in states for the third time in Heath’s four-year career and the prior two times, a team from District 3 ended their season in the first round.
Harrisburg had a similar make-up. The Cougars, the sixth seed from the midstate district, were a tough and tenacious group, undersized but by no mean intimidated. They also refused to go away at any point in the game.
“That’s a good team and they made shots,” Abington coach Charles Grasty said. “We knew they would be scrappy, would play hard and get a lot of 50/50 balls. They made some tremendous shots. We closed out the way we wanted to, they just made shots.”
Dixon led Abington with 26 points and had a very physical afternoon battling the Cougars in the paint. The junior forward took 17 foul shots on Saturday and was met with a lot of contact nearly every time he touched the ball. Dixon didn’t let it get to him and instead tried to play it back against Harisburg.
Abington was in the bonus before the first quarter ended, a needed reprieve after a sluggish start offensively from the field. The Ghosts shot 12-of-14 from the foul line in the first half, and while they weren’t as good in the second half, the uptick in attacking made up for it.
“Obviously there’s pressure, people are asking ‘are you finally going to get out of the first round this year?’,” Dixon said. “That gets a little annoying, so it was good to get the win. I just adjusted to what they were doing. I was trying to get around them, they were fighting and the refs called it.”
It was a see-saw game for two-plus quarters. Abington didn’t take its first lead until the second quarter and had just two made baskets until the 6:10 mark of the second frame. An emphatic dunk by Lucas Monroe staked Abington to an 18-15 edge, but Harrisburg continued to stick tough led by Na’Reece Glenn and Kyrell Ganntt.
While the Ghosts took a 28-27 lead into the half, it was tenuous at best and Harrisburg wasted little time in regaining the advantage early in the third frame. An 8-0 run in response gave Abington the lead back for good when Dixon scored for a 32-31 advantage but even then, it was far from done.
“We would get up a couple baskets and we told them earlier, this is the type of team that they’re never going to feel like they’re out of a game,” Grasty said. “They are going to keep fighting. To me, they’re very similar to Norristown. They feel until the clock hits zero, they’re still in it and that’s how they play, give credit to them.”
Glenn led Harrisburg with 15 points, Kyaire Sumpter had 11 with nine coming after halftime and Nyzier Brannon scored 12 with eight after the break. The Cougars never had a sustained second-half run but they did seem to have an answer every time the Ghosts seemed on the cusp of breaking one.
Whether it was a three or just a midrange shot, the Cougars never let Abington’s lead get above two or three possessions until the midpoint of the final quarter.
With 5:22 left in the game, Heath hit a three from the right wing to put Abington up 54-48. The Australian senior followed that with a driving score then picked the pocket of a Cougar player and went the rest of the floor for his run-capping dunk and a 58-48 lead.
“At the point when I got the dunk, I called game,” Heath said. “It might have been too early, but after I got that dunk, I was confident we were going to come out with a victory.”
Harrisburg did score four late points to cut the margin down to 61-57, but its last bucket came with 6.8 on the clock, so Abington was finally able to exhale after a state playoff win.
Dixon added 13 rebounds and a block to his 26 points. Monroe finished with seven points, seven rebounds, four assists and two steals while Heath notched four boards and three assists. The Ghosts only got five combined points outside its power trio of Heath, Dixon and Monroe but Heath pointed out plenty of contributions that didn’t show up in the book.
Abington will face St. Joseph’s Prep, a 62-57 winner over Northampton, in Wednesday’s second round. What the Ghosts were focused on Saturday though, was the fact they get a few more days in the gym together.
“First time in my life I said I’m glad we have practice on Monday,” Dixon said.
ABINGTON 61, HARRISBURG 57
ABINGTON 10 18 19 14 – 61
HARRISBURG 10 17 14 16 – 57
Abington: Eric Dixon 7 12-17 26, Robbie Heath 10 2-5 23, Darious Brown 0 2-2 2, Brandon Coffman 1 0-0 2, Lucas Monroe 2 3-4 7, Xavier Crawford 0 1-2 1. Nonscoring: JP Nolan, Dante Knox, Bryan Coffman, Hassan Whitby. Totals: 20 20-31 61.
Harrisburg: Sumpter 4 0-0 11, Anthony 1 0-0 3, Glenn 6 0-0 15, Brannon 5 2-2 12, James 2 0-0 4, Ganntt 2 1-2 6, Jones 2 0-0 4, Butler 1 0-0 2. Totals: 23 3-4 57.
3-pointers: A – Heath; H – Sumpter 3, Glenn 3, Anthony, Ganntt