LOWER GWYNEDD >> Cheltenham’s boys basketball team is built to thrive in a fast-paced game.
At the same time, the Panthers can be at their worst in a high-tempo contest and the determining factor usually comes down to whether or not Cheltenham is the team dictating the speed of play. When the Panthers are able to play fast, they’re good and when they’re made to play fast, they aren’t as good.
For parts of three quarters, Cheltenham was made to play fast but once the Panthers were able to play fast in the fourth, they finally worked their way past host Wissahickon 76-61 Tuesday night.
“We have a phrase ‘sustained focus,’ our emphasis on them was to keep doing what they were doing, we had 17 points in the first quarter, so it wasn’t offense for us,” Panthers coach John Timms said. “It was more about defense, if we communicate and play better defense, we start getting into transition.”
Jack Clark led Cheltenham with 22 points, making 8-of-15 shots and Amir Lewis poured in 21 points to help pace the Panthers offense. The issue, at least early on, was defense. Timms has the utmost respect for Wissahickon senior guard Max Rapoport and didn’t want the sharpshooter to cleanly run the offense.
Unfortunately for the Panthers, they were made to play fast in the first quarter, with Rapoport and Eddie Fortescue pushing the pace and in turn, getting Cheltenham’s defense out of sorts. Zach Reiner scored six of his 14 points in the first quarter and the Trojans dropped 20 on their guests.
“We had to start pressuring their guards, not let their guards get too comfortable and stop the dribble-penetration,” Panthers senior Jack Clark said. “All their corner shots and wing threes, they were hitting them but we kind of locked in on them. Every day in practice, we talk about communication, the help defense, calling out screens, we all have to do that every day so it translates into the games.”
“Given that Kyle (Wilson) is one of the best coaches in our whole conference, you’re going to have a tough time stopping Wissahickon if you let Rap get into his offense, they’re going to score,” Timms said. “That’s not a typical Cheltenham defensive game and we had to realize we weren’t going to win playing that way and buckle down a little bit on defense.”
Cheltenham got a major spark to end the frame when Tim Myarick’s three-quarter court heave hit nothing but net at the horn, cutting the Wiss lead down to 20-17. Myarick scored 10, all in the first half and hit another clutch shot at the end of the second quarter on a corner 3-pointer to give the Panthers a 41-39 halftime edge.
“We’re waiting for Tim, we watch Tim do this in practice, Tim can be a 15-point per game player,” Timms said. “He had 10 today in limited minutes. Tim is a spark every time he comes into the game but we don’t want a spark, we want more of a light, we want to get more minutes out of Tim.”
Wisshickon trailed after the second and third quarters, but the hosts also led for stretches of those quarters and used a 12-2 run through the first half of the third frame to build a 51-45 edge with 4:03 left in the frame. Reiner had eight in the third while Fortescue, who led Wiss with 18 points, had five.
Cheltenham guards Zahree Harrison and Ahmad Bickley struggled offensively for most of the night, but when they most needed to, they stepped up for their team. Bickley, the senior point guard, was the difference in the eyes of Wiss coach Kyle Wilson.
“Bickley had four points, but man was he bigger than four points in that game,” Wilson said. “Everything that he does, he’s the quarterback of the game. He is such an impressive player on that team and you win games like that because of a kid like that. He doesn’t care how many points he scores, his team got the win.
“He was the better point guard tonight but it’s something we’ll learn from and grow from. We would have loved to have had a win here tonight in our gym.”
Bickley had 10 assists, two steals, two blocks and four rebounds while Harrison chipped in three helpers, three steals and seven boards to go with his four points. When Cheltenham is the one dictating the speed of play, Bickley is at his best. The guard weaves his way around screens and defenders with poise and control, sucking in attention and simply flipping the ball to the most open guy with the easiest shot.
Wilson felt his team fought well for three quarters, but started to let the speed of the game get away in the fourth quarter. Despite Wiss having success speeding up Cheltenham for parts of the opening three frames, it didn’t go the same in the fourth.
“You don’t want to end possessions with turnovers and we ended a series of two or three with turnovers,” Wilson said. “You want to play fast but you don’t want to play rushed and I felt we played rushed at times.”
For Cheltenham, it was a 9-0 run after Wiss took its 51-45 lead that seemed to turn the game around. Timms noted his guys can’t go full-throttle defensively all game, or else they’re all going to foul out but when the right time is there, they want to press the issue.
With Clark leading the charge, Cheltenham erased the six-point deficit and on a Bickley jumper, took the lead for good with 2:14 left in the third. A 6-0 spurt early in the fourth, punctuated with a Clark dunk off a 3-on-1 break featuring Harrison and Bickley setting up the La Salle recruit, put Cheltenham up 10 and firmly in control.
“Our game is actually playing fast and speeding up but when the other team is the one speeding up, it’s really not that good for us,” Clark said. “We want to be the ones speeding up the other teams. We finally sped them up, I think they were tired and we had a lot of energy and momentum, so once we were able to get on a 5-0 run, it’s our game.”
Wisshickon gets right back to work Wednesday night for a road trip to Hatboro-Horsham in the second of its four games this week. Wilson said his guys were eager to get back on the floor after consecutive losses and feels the Trojans just need to clean a few things up to return to playing four quarter basketball.
Cheltenham hosts Plymouth Whitemarsh on Friday with first place in the SOL American on the line. PW beat the Panthers in both regular season meetings this year, but Clark felt Tuesday’s game helped Cheltenham not look too far ahead.
“I liked having this game first, (Wiss) is a good team and it’s kind of like a tune-up for PW,” Clark said. “PW is going to be a big test for us and if we’re able to win, it should show us that we can be really good this season.”
CHELTENHAM 76, WISSAHICKON 61
CHELTENHAM 17 24 17 18 – 76
WISSAHICKON 20 19 16 6 – 61
Cheltenham: Jack Clark 8 6-10 22, Amir Lewis 7 5-6 21, Kyin Healy 5 0-2 10, Tim Myarick 4 0-0 10, Zahree Harrison 2 0-1 4, Ahmad Bickley 2 0-0 4, Lonce Scott 1 0-0 2, Brandon Scott 0 2-2 2, Dom Pope 0 1-2 1. Totals: 29 14-23 76.
Wissahickon: Eddie Fortescue 8 2-5 18, Zach Reiner 7 0-2 14, Max Rapoport 4 1-2 13, Anthony Lawrence 3 0-0 6, Donovan Oliphant 2 0-0 5, Cole Hirsch 1 0-0 3, Tyler Caso 1 0-0 2, Seth Compas 0 0-1 0. Totals: 26 3-10 76.
3-pointers: C – Lewis 2, Myarick 2, W – Rapoport 4, Hirsch, Oliphant.