FAIRLESS HILLS – Conwell-Egan Catholic (CEC) fell behind 15-6 midway through the first period of its boys basketball battle with Philadelphia Catholic League (PCL) rival Cardinal O’Hara Friday night (Jan. 12) on the Eagles’ home court.
That was OK. Egan has senior Eric Esposito on its side. The 6-6 senior canned three 3-pointers before time elapsed in the first period, giving the Eagles a 19-17 edge heading into the second quarter.
With 6:42 to go in the fourth quarter and Egan trailing 55-52, however, Esposito drew his fourth foul and had to sit. And the Eagles are just not the same team without their lanky center on the court.
With Esposito on the bench, that opened up the lane for O’Hara senior Antwuan Butler. He canned four field goals in the final frame and tallied a game-high 22 points, helping the visiting Lions escape Wistar Road with a 70-69 triumph.
For the home team, it was the third time in six days that Egan fell at the hand of a Catholic League rival. The Eagles lost to LaSalle 70-68 on Jan. 7 and to defending PIAA Class AAA Champion Neumann-Goretti 93-73 on Jan. 10.
“I think we’re right there,” said Conwell-Egan first-year coach Bryan Caver.
“My guys are plugging away, they’re trying to learn to play the right way.
“We’re right there. Competing – that’s what it’s really all about.”
With 2 and 1/2 minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Eagles briefly held a Catholic 62-59 edge but could not hang on. An Egan turnover on an errant pass in the Eagles’ offensive zone in the last two minutes of the game played a significant role in the disappointing outcome.
A key offensive rebound by sophomore Jordan Hall off a pair of missed free throws by Butler also helped O’Hara win. Hall followed the carom by drawing a foul – on Esposito.
Esposito’s fifth infraction, it put the CEC senior out of the contest. Hall then canned both of his free throws, giving the Lions a 66-64 edge with 1:41 remaining in regulation and a one-handed shot by sophomore Kevin Reeves put the Lions up 68-64 with 37 seconds left.
CEC senior Patrick Robinson made a seemingly impossible layup but missed the and-one with 23 ticks left and junior Terrance Jones canned a trey with 5.7 seconds remaining to bring the score to its heartbreaking conclusion, the Eagles’ fourth loss in the Catholic League and their sixth, overall.
The eventual difference in the game was a pair of made free throws by O’Hara senior Garrett Ripp.
Robinson led Egan with 21 points and Esposito added 19, a scoring effort that included five 3-pointers. The Eagles canned 10 treys in the game, compared to just four for the Lions, who pushed their way to 7-4 on the season and evened their Catholic League mark at 2-2.
With Esposito in foul trouble, O’Hara won the battle on the boards late in the game when it mattered most.
“We need to do all the little things,” said Robinson. “We can’t have turnovers, stupid turnovers, 5-second call violations. We have to get the ball up faster and we have to play faster.
“On defense, we just have to stop penetration.”
All four field goals by Butler in the fourth quarter were driving layups that saw little opposition.
“We have to improve our help defense,” added Robinson.
“There were a lot of active hands in our zone, letting shooters shoot – we just need to close out faster.
Offensively, Egan got off to a slow start, with Esposito registering more than half the Eagles’ points in the first two quarters.
“We have to start paying more attention from the beginning,” said Robinson. “We can’t start playing in the second half.”
Last year, Egan outpaced both LaSalle and O’Hara on its way to a 5-3 start in Catholic League action. Now, the Eagles face an uphill battle in the PCL, which resumes Sunday at Archbishop Wood.
Coming off consecutive losses to Catholic League rivals Archbishop Ryan and Bonner-Prendergast, the Vikings are also in need of a league win.
After Friday night’s 68-55 loss to the Friars, Wood is 4-6 overall, 1-2 in the PCL. Last year, the defending PIAA Class 5A champion Vikings outpaced Egan, 92-61.
Cardinal O’Hara 70, Conwell-Egan 69
(Jan. 12 at Conwell-Egan)
Conwell-Egan 19 14 19 17 – 69
Cardinal O’Hara 17 18 18 17 – 70
Conwell-Egan (3-6) — Eric Esposito 19, Patrick Robinson 21, Joe Baldichino 14, Delroy Gayle 7, Avante Williams 2, Terrance Jones Jr. 6; TOTALS — 23 13-21–69.
Cardinal O’Hara (7-4) — Eli Smith 7, Jordan Hall 20, Antwuan Butler 22, Kevin Reeves 4, Kyle Maska 6, Jameel Burton 4, Garrett Ripp 7; TOTALS — 25 16-28–70.
3-POINT GOALS: CE — Esposito 5, Baldichino 3, Jones 2; CO — Hall 3, Butler.