ABINGTON >> Things are looking a little bigger in Abington’s gym this season.
Even the guards are getting into the act, as sophomore Robbie Heath shot up from 5-foot-9 to 6-foot-1 since last season. But the true size movement is up front, where the Galloping Ghosts are going to work with a big and deep front line.
The youngest among them, freshman Eric Dixon, is already making himself right at home in the paint.
Tuesday night, Dixon dropped in 21 as Abington fended off a feisty Bensalem team, 56-43.
“I felt like I had the advantage and I could take advantage of everything,” the big 6-foot-6 freshman said. “Our whole team can take advantage of mismatches. One night, if it’s Robbie who has the mismatch, we’re going to take it. If it’s me, I’m going to take it.”
Heath delivered 11 points while senior forward Brian Close also put in 11, making a couple of key plays in the fourth quarter. Senior Jack Steinman and towering Joe O’Brien also did work inside as the Ghosts continue to develop their identity in a post-Matt Penecale/Amir Hinton world. So far, it’s been going pretty well.
Tuesday night’s Suburban One League National Conference win wasn’t pretty, but it was good for a young squad to have to make some of those plays late in a suddenly tight contest. The Ghosts zipped out to a 9-2 lead and looked like they were going to rip the seams open when the Owls scrapped back and trailed just 13-10 after one.
“It was an ugly one,” Ghosts coach Charles Grasty said. “But, (Bensalem) does a good job of playing their style of basketball. They want to up-tempo it, turn you over and they want you to take quick shots. They did a good job tonight. We were telling them to be patient but sometimes they get that open look right away and shoot it right away.”
Even with a fleet of big men, Grasty doesn’t mind playing at a higher tempo. The Ghosts’ bigs are all good athletes and can run the floor, so it fits well with the coach’s philosophy to not slow the game down.
It was the bigs who helped get Abington (6-2, 3-1 conference) off to a solid start, with Dixon, O’Brien, Close and Steinman accounting for 16 of the team’s first 21 points. Of course, the big guys aren’t going to do anything without the ball and Abington’s guards and wings did a good job of putting the ball in the post. Heath, point guard Dion Green and reserve BJ James all had some nice entry passes that led to easy buckets.
While Hinton and Penecale were honored for their 1,000-point milestones and District 1-AAAA title last year Tuesday, they’re both playing in college. Taking over some of their role is Heath, who started every game last year. The Australian import has put in a lot of work to hone his game and already has a good idea what to do to get his bigs in position to do work.
“I’m just trying to finish through contact, I’ve been doing full contact dribbling drills,” Heath said. “The ball is going to be in my hand late in the game and a lot of important situations.
“It’s inside-out, inside-out, that’s what Coach always says. We’re 6-2 so it’s going pretty good.”
Abington held Bensalem (1-5, 1-3) to just seven second quarter points, and three of those came on a banked-in triple. After taking a 26-17 lead into the half, the Ghosts started the third quarter by pounding the ball into Dixon four times in the first six possessions.
Grasty said he hasn’t been surprised at all by Dixon’s quick start and the freshman has hit at least 20 points in all six of the team’s wins. Heath likewise wasn’t surprised, but he knew Dixon a bit from middle school and the guard said Dixon may be the second-best 3-point shooter on the team.
Dixon has a wide body and plays with strength inside while also showing good touch around the hoop and good hands. Heath said he likes to set the freshman up with bounce passes while Dixon said his teammates have helped him ease the transition.
“The seniors have helped me a lot, they tell me to go home and do my homework instead of playing any games,” Dixon said. “They’re helping me to play better defense, get acclimated to the gym and stuff like that.”
Midway through the third quarter, the Owls made a run, scoring eight straight to cut Abington’s lead to 35-28 with 2:17 to go. It was two guys off the Bensalem bench, Ward Roberts and Brian Quarterman, who sparked the 11-4 run to close the quarter. Quarterman drilled a 3 with 1.3 left in the frame to make it 39-31 Ghosts going into the final quarter.
After Close hit a pair of freebies, Roberts struck for five quick points in 12 seconds, stealing an inbounds for a lay-up, then taking a quick pass off another steal for a 3 to make it 41-36.
Close missed a pair at the line, but he made up for it with a heads-up play on a 3-on-1 break as the trail man, cutting in for a pass and contact for a three-point play. After Roberts hit another triple, Close made another smart cut and scored on an O’Brien pass, though he wasn’t able to hit the and-1. Still, the play helped steady the Ghosts and after a stop, Dixon hit inside to push it back to nine with 3:57 left.
“They’re getting the feel for different teams,” Grasty said. “The second time around or even later in the season, we’ll get comfortable.”
Dixon all but sealed the game when he grabbed an offensive rebound on a free throw then scored and took a hit on a putback, hitting the freebie to give Abington a 53-41 lead with 1:35 to play.
“I felt pressure my first couple of games,” Dixon said. “But now, I’m just coming out here with the guys and it’s not just me on offense. I’ve got Robbie, I have a lot of other guys to help me. It’s easy now.
“Playing against Joe helped because he’s so big and athletic and Brian, Brian goes hard and he’s heady, so it’s helped me get acclimated to all types of players.”