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Norwood’s touch goes, so goes Penncrest

NEWTOWN >> He didn’t have a hood pulled up, or a towel draped over his head. He didn’t duck out a side door, either.

There was nowhere for Tyler Norwood to go. That was as much the case after the game as it was during.

Norwood, Delaware County’s second-leading scorer, received constant defensive pressure Friday night. He struggled to find a sweet spot on the court. His shot was off, and Penncrest’s hope at a lengthy state-playoff run went with it.

Penncrest, fresh off its first District 1 championship since 1969, bowed out of the PIAA Class 5A tournament with a 51-42 first-round loss to Hershey. The Lions’ historic season came to an end at Marple Newtown High School, in a game they trailed wire to wire.

Penncrest’s Manny Ruffin brings the ball up with Hershey’s Griffin Jackson defending Friday night in Hershey’s victory over the Lions in the first round of the PIAA Class 5A tournament. (Digital First Media/Anne Neborak)

Norwood shot 8-for-30 from the field, including 1-for-11 from 3-point range, to finish with 17 points. He even missed his lone attempt at the foul line. Seemingly epitomizing his off night, Norwood’s up-and-under layup attempt in the game’s final seconds — an uncontested look at the rim — rolled out.

“My shots just weren’t falling. Nothing I can do about it,” said the junior guard. “My teammates kept me motivated, confident. I just kept shooting and it wasn’t falling. It wasn’t my night.

“I give a lot of credit to (Hershey). They came down here and they took it from us. Can’t say anything better than that.”

The Lions (20-8) had hope late. The door was open for them. They pulled to within five points, at 35-30, early in the fourth quarter. At that point, Hershey had opened the second half by missing all but one of its first 12 looks at the basket.

Penncrest responded by making only two of its final nine shot attempts. Meanwhile, the visiting Trojans (14-13), the 10th-seeded team out of District 3, connected on 11 of 14 free throw attempts to pull away.

Chris Mills finished with a double-double of 13 points and 13 rebounds for the Lions, while teammate Justin Ross added four points, six rebounds, and six assists in the loss.

One by one, Lions coach Mike Doyle began subbing out his seniors for curtain-call claps from the rowdy Penncrest fanbase. Senior forward Mike Mallon collapsed into Doyle’s arms in tears, as did Ross, a senior guard.

“There’s so many tears,” Doyle said. “It’s one of the hardest locker rooms I’ve ever walked into because they weren’t satisfied.”

This game was ripe for the taking by Penncrest, a team that had strung together five consecutive wins to claim the district crown and earn only its third state-playoff appearance in the last 34 seasons.

The odds, too, were stacked in the Lions’ favor, with a game on a court only 15 minutes from their homes, and against a gritty-but-beatable team from a Pennsylvania Turnpike drive away.

Penncrest, though, got off to a slow start and never recovered. The Lions allowed 16 first-quarter points, and then went nearly six minutes without scoring a single second-quarter point. All the while, Hershey slowly added to its lead with a balanced scoring attack.

“It’s basketball. You have to keep that intensity level,” said Doyle. “We weren’t the biggest, we weren’t the strongest, we weren’t the fastest team every night. We played with so much energy and emotion and precision defensively, and to try to keep that up, we just had some difficulty.”

The Lions shot 14-for-49, or 28 percent, from the field. Adding to their woes was Norwood’s inability to get hot.

While Hershey mixed up the looks his team afforded Norwood, Trojans coach Paul Blackburn said the key was in assigning sophomore sparkplug guard Luke Hedrick to guard Norwood.

“We knew we had to continue to challenge (Norwood), so we practiced lots of trapping, staying with him, switching, making it difficult for him,” Blackburn said. “In our area, there’s no player like (Norwood). It’s hard to find a guy who just scores, fills it up naturally. I think our guys did enough just to throw him off the mark.”

Said Norwood: “We always feel like we can come back when we’re down. Tonight, something was just different. We got within five and (we) missed layups, (gave up) open 3s for them, left their best shooter open, and that opened the gap. It just wasn’t our night.”

At one point in the third quarter, Norwood was forced to check out of the game. He went up for a defensive rebound, and instead came down with a bloodied nose. In all, he missed 22 seconds of gametime.

It didn’t make much of a difference, anyway. Hershey had done enough to set the tone and pull away.

“I hope, a few years from now, we’ll be remembered as one of the best Penncrest teams to remember,” Mallon said. “Right now, it just hurts.”

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