PHILADELPHIA >> Eric Dixon saw the looks on the faces of the Abington fans.
The Galloping Ghosts junior center didn’t like what he saw. Dixon saw dejection, he saw disappointment and longing. It was enough to get Dixon frustrated and aware he wasn’t doing all he could for his team. With his squad down nine points at half, things had to change.
With Dixon and Robbie Heath leading the way, things most certainly did change.
The Ghosts put together a remarkable third quarter as they rallied back then held off a furious Plymouth Whitemarsh surge to top the No. 1 Colonials 75-73 in the District 1-6A boys basketball championship Saturday night at the Liacouras Center.
“I’m going to the locker room, I saw my friends and family and they had a look of ‘uh-oh’ and that bothered me at a personal level,” Dixon said. “I love being from here and I love playing for this school and to see them all looking disappointed and deflated, it bothered me and I wanted to come out and make them proud.”
BOYS BASKETBALL FINAL: Abington 75, Plymouth Whitemarsh 73
The Ghosts repeat as District I champions
Fantastic game pic.twitter.com/D4jRU8kbEp
— Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3) March 4, 2018
Dixon and Heath scored 25 points each as the Ghosts (22-5) won back-to-back district titles and for the program, its third in the last four years. Down 34-25 at the break and not really able to slow PW down, the Ghosts had a second half response ready.
For PW, not only did it see its hunt for a district title ended at the hands of the Ghosts for the second straight season, but its perfect record was spoiled at Temple. Now 27-1, the Colonials face a crossroads of where they will go in the state tournament next week.
“Until we beat Abington, in my mind, we had to prove to ourselves that we could beat them,” PW coach Jim Donofrio said. “My job, as the players always hear me say, is to assume the other guys are going to play the greatest game of their lives and can we raise it? The kids have been tremendous, they’ve been great. I don’t know at 27-0, if you’re off a hair, if you’re comfortable but you give Abington the credit there.”
Abington won the third quarter 29-8, with Dixon scoring 16 points and Heath 11. Junior guard Lucas Monroe scored two points in the frame, but he helped kick off the Abington surge with three steals and the Ghosts used a 10-0 run with every point coming from Heath and Dixon to flip the script.
A Dixon hoop put the Ghosts up 40-38 with 4:20 left in the third, and after PW’s Ahmin Williams tied it back up, Heath got fouled and hit two free throws, then Dixon got fouled scoring and converted the and-1 for a 45-40 lead.
The Ghosts didn’t trail again.
“I’ll be honest, it was impressive to watch, not only as a basketball coach but I’m a basketball fan, I love to see good basketball, I love to see energy and we were able to step up,” Abington coach Charles Grasty said. “We didn’t change a lot of X’s and O’s at halftime, I didn’t come in here yelling and screaming, I said ‘we’ve been here before,’ our energy level wasn’t there for whatever reason, we were playing on our heels and wanted to step it up.”
Dixon’s and-1 was one of four the Ghosts had in the final 1:38 of the third quarter as they, going back to Heath’s free throws, closed the frame on a 14-2 run. Heath, the senior guard from Australia, won his third district title in four seasons as a starter at Abington.
Still, even he was sweating bullets in the final few minutes as an Ish Horn-fueled PW comeback almost came to completion. Horn was tremendous, scoring 29 points to lead all scorers, including 15 in the final stanza.
Dixon steal, finds Heath in transition for the and-1. 51-42 Abington pic.twitter.com/ynVkwpgMS8
— Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3) March 4, 2018
“I knew we were going to make a run, I didn’t know it was going to be 29-8,” Heath said. “I knew they would make a run too, it scared me, I didn’t know they were making that big of a run. We made some dumb mistakes and all that but I’m glad we gutted it out and got the win.”
Heath is also undefeated at the Liacouras Center in his career and scored eight pivotal points in the fourth quarter to help fend off the PW run. The Colonials dropped 31 points in the final quarter, even with four starters eventually fouling out but Abington managed to find enough points to stay ahead.
Monroe, who added six rebounds and six assists to his three steals, scored 12 points and was 6-of-6 at the foul line in the final frame. Donofrio said while he circled Heath’s No. 3 and Dixon’s No. 43 on the whiteboard at halftime, he feels Monroe is the piece that makes things go for Abington.
“You have to understand as a kid and a competitor, if you have a lead in one of these championship games, nothing like that is safe and you can’t get lulled into a false sense of anything,” Donofrio said. “Abington hit another gear, we’ve hit that gear ourselves all year and in that moment and can we decide we want to hang together?”
Both teams will begin play in the state tournament next weekend.
None of the Ghosts players have won a state playoff game yet and Heath talked about that being the motivation for next week. But, carrying an Australian flag with him, Heath was willing to just bask in the moment one last time.
“I’m speechless, winning three of my four years, it’s so rare,” Heath said. “Doing it with the guys I have on my team, the people around me have never disappointed me.”
ABINGTON 75, PLYMOUTH WHITEMARSH 73
ABINGTON 14 11 29 21 – 75
PLYMOUTH WHITEMARSH 18 16 8 31 – 73
Abington: Robbie Heath 8 9-9 25, Darious Brown 0 1-2 1, Lucas Monroe 3 6-7 12, Eric Dixon 9 7-11 25, JP Nolan 4 0-0 10, Bryan Coffman 0 2-4 2, Xavier Crawford 0 0-2 0. Totals: 24 27-35 75.
Plymouth Whitemarsh: Ish Horn 11 5-5 29, Naheem McLeod 8 4-5 20, Ahmin Williams 5 5-6 15, Alan Glover 2 0-1 4, Danny Cooper 2 0-0 4, Caelin Peters 0 1-2 1. Totals: 28 15-20 73.
3-pointers: A – Nolan 2, PW Horn 2.