LANSDALE – There were moments Sunday afternoon where it was hard to believe Lansdale Catholic and Cardinal O’Hara had gotten near the halfway point of the Catholic League season without a conference win. The exquisite half-court ball movement executed by Kyle Kane in LC’s circle-cuts and the picture-perfect 18-foot jumpers hit by O’Hara big man Solo Bambara in the first quarter held the promise of two teams whose talents exceeded their win totals.
But by the fourth quarter, as the turnovers and missed free throws piled up, it became clear why they entered among the five winless squads at the foot of a PCL standings quickly sorting into two distinct tiers. And befitting a matchup of stragglers, it was the team that made the fewest mistakes that got its first tick mark in the win column.
Despite faulty shooting from the free-throw line late, LC held on at home for a 53-48 victory.
“It was scary,” LC forward Nick Romeo said. “Coach (Joe Corbett) told us yesterday that free throws might be big tomorrow, and he was right. But luckily that didn’t hurt as much as it could have.”
The final unsightly tally at the line for Lansdale Catholic (3-10 overall, 1-6 PCL) was 14-for-29, including four missed front-ends of one-and-ones. In the fourth, they shot 8-for-17 from the stripe, missing two front-ends. But they did enough defensively to keep the game in hand, limiting O’Hara (6-8, 0-6) to five field goals and 15 points after halftime.
The Crusaders’ defense had O’Hara off balance from the start. The Lions are one of the area’s most dependent teams on the 3-pointer, with 10 players who’ve connected on at least one deep ball this season and six with eight or more makes. The one-to-five shooting ability made a zone defense that invites long shots the unorthodox decision, but LC’s determination to get hands in shooters’ faces made it work. O’Hara shot 5-for-19 behind the arc and never got into a shooting rhythm to make Lansdale pay.
“We’re all shooters, so we always have got to try to hit the open man, the open shots,” Bambara said. “Against bigger teams, because we’re not so big, we’ve got to try to hit open shots. We do whatever we can to get the next man open shots.”
“Coach told us that they were a shooting team, they were going to hit some and we can’t get down on ourselves,” Romeo said. “Credit to the team, we came ready to go and even when they hit some, we got back out on them more. The coaches kept us going the whole game. They came out in the second half and hit a couple more, but we just fought back.”
Solo Bambarra hits a corner 3 at the horn. At half, Cardinal O’Hara leads Lansdale Catholic 33-31 pic.twitter.com/UUmdhRs1ok
— Matthew De George (@sportsdoctormd) January 13, 2019
Bambara hit a 3-pointer from the corner in the final seconds of the first half, and Adrian Irving’s 3-pointer two minutes into the third quarter gave O’Hara its largest lead at 38-31, but the Lions missed their last eight attempts from deep.
Lansdale Catholic, though, kept methodically finding offense in the lane. Romeo led the way with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Center Hunter Healy scored nine points. Kane added 11 points and Tim Cunane chipped in 10, the vast majority on high-percentage drives to the rim or jumpers within 10 feet. Kane dished five assists, and Cunane led the way with four steals.
“They fought through it and I was proud of them,” Romeo said of the two-way effort from Kane and Cunane. “We kept talking to each other and we knew what we had to do, and we got it done.”
Healy’s second-chance basket in the final minute of the third quarter evened the score at 41, and he converted a three-point play early in the fourth to put LC up for good at 44-41, part of a 10-3 run.
O’Hara’s answer wasn’t firm enough. Anthony Purnell hit a runner two minutes into the fourth to claw within 46-44. Their next bucket wouldn’t come until Jameel Burton tossed in a second-chance deuce with 18 seconds to play, indicative of too many missed jumpers.
“Sometimes we feel too comfortable about shooting too many shots, and when there’s an open layup we can take, it’s like our guys aren’t sometimes confident enough,” Bambara said. “But we’re definitely going to work on that.”
Purnell led O’Hara with 14 points. Irving had 11 and nine rebounds, and Bambara tallied nine.
There remain end-of-game items for both teams to work on – like O’Hara getting a putback basket that would’ve made it a two-point game nullified by an off-ball foul. Or LC fouling Daijon Womack shooting a 3-pointer with nine seconds left in a five-point game only for Womack to miss all three free throws.
For O’Hara under first-year head coach Ryan Nemetz, it comes with the territory of a roster loaded with juniors and sophomores that are talented but still growing together.
“We’re pretty young and we’re trying to get into the flow of it because there’s different guys who’ve come over from different places,” Bambara said. “We’re trying to get a good bond with each other and hopefully next year we’ll come out and show out.”
LC is a little further along in its growth, and Sunday was a reward.
“It’s a big one,” Romeo said, “and hopefully it keeps snowballing and we keep rolling.”
In other Catholic League action:
Due to weather, Archbishop Carroll’s trip to Neumann-Goretti and Archbishop Wood’s visit to Bonner & Prendergast scheduled for Sunday were postponed. Both games will be played Monday night at 7.