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Pennridge lets defense do the work against Upper Dublin

WARMINSTER >> Slower sometimes is better.

At the onset of the season, the Pennridge boys basketball team wanted to play at a higher tempo and it seemed to fit the Rams’ skills pretty well. The issue was that any uptick in pace wasn’t necessarily leading to better defense. Defending more than anything is what’s going to get the Rams where they want to go, so they decided to slow it up a little.

Saturday, it worked really well as Pennridge’s halfcourt defense stifled Upper Dublin in a 54-33 win as part of the SOL Challenge at William Tennent.

“We’re trying to slow the game down and we saw here that it can work,” Rams forward Tyrese Lewis said. “We’re trying to get a little pressure up, a little pressure full court but when we have to, really slow the game down and that works.”

It works because the Rams (9-4, 2-2 SOL Continental) have a lot of cohesion playing together and they help each other out on defense. Offensively, they’ve been in a bit of a slump and still weren’t great on Saturday but their defense was more than enough to cover for them.

Upper Dublin (3-10, 2-4 SOL American) being an inexperienced team under a new coaching staff certainly helped, but Cardinals coach Chris Monahan felt the Rams’ defense was the difference-maker. The Cardinals don’t want to play slow, and their best success came when they were able to break a Pennridge press or push the ball off a rebound, but they just couldn’t set the tempo on Saturday.

“They slowed us down, we want to play faster than they do but they’re just very good defensively in the halfcourt,” Monahan said. “We couldn’t do anything in the halfcourt but in the first half, we got three layup attempts of breaking the press and when we’re at our best, we’re doing that.”

UD had won two straight coming into Saturday’s game, so Pennridge coach Dean Behrens wasn’t overlooking the Cardinals. If anything, the veteran Rams coach was most pleased with how his defense played in the SOL Challenge, more than any of the ball movement or his guys creating their own energy in a mostly-empty gym.

The Eagles playing at the same time certainly had something to do with the low attendance, but Lewis said he and his teammates shouldn’t have to rely on a crowd to get them going. It’s great when their fans react to one of his dunks or an and-1 by Jon Post or Sean Yoder, but Lewis said moving the ball and communicating on defense creates that same buzz for the guys on the floor.

“Our tempo really bothered them, we kept coming in waves,” Behrens said. “We did a good job defensively of rotating, we were getting in the pain on the weakside, just sticking to defensive principles. When we’re hugging our man two passes away, that doesn’t get anything done when a guy goes to the basket. When they penetrated, we got good help defense.”

Mike Molettiere scored all 10 of his points in the first quarter as Pennridge took a 16-6 lead but the offense hit a wall in the second quarter, with the Rams scoring just five total points. Still, the defense stayed firm and the Rams led 21-14 at the half.

A 3-pointer by UD sophomore Jason Williams brought the Cards within 25-20 in the third quarter before Lewis and his teammates regained control of the game. The spring-loaded senior turned a steal at midcourt into a two-handed stuff, igniting a quick 5-0 spurt over the next minute. Pennridge then turned it into a full-blown run, outscoring the Cardinals 11-0 to end the frame.

“Turnovers have hurt us all year,” Monahan said. “We have an inexperienced group and it shows, because we turn the ball over a lot.”

Pennridge’s starting five contains three seniors in Ryan Warner, Mike Molettiere and Lewis, plus juniors in Post and Yoder, all of whom have major varsity experience. Plus, they go back way before high school playing on the same teams, so it makes a lot of sense that they communicate well defensively.

Behrens saw a team more committed to its defending on Saturday. Naturally, teammates are going to have spats here and there, but when the Rams are able to get past that, they’re an effective team.

“I’ve been playing with these guys since sixth grade, middle school, sometimes even playing against them,” Lewis said. “We weren’t playing selfish and we weren’t blaming each other. Sometimes we blame each other, but today we didn’t do that at all and once we do that, we gain confidence.”

Yoder and Post each scored 11 to pace the Rams, with Lewis adding eight points, six rebounds, two assists, three blocks and a pair of steals. Upper Dublin didn’t have any players in double figures but had four players score five or more points.

Monahan saw progress in the two wins earlier in the week, but felt like the Cardinals may have taken a step back on Saturday. He’s still looking to establish some consistency for a team that fluctuates between seniors and a host of underclassmen, most of them sophomores and hopes the second half of SOL American play can bring that.

Pennridge meanwhile, finds itself largely in control of its fate. Central Bucks South stands atop the Continental at 5-0, but every other team has at least two conference losses, so it should be a good race to the finish. On top of that, the Rams are right in the mix for a district playoff bid with nine games left, and there’s nowhere else Lewis would rather the team be heading into the last stretch.

“We wanted to be at this spot before playoffs,” Lewis said. “If we keep up this run we’ve been on, we can grow confident over the next few games. We communicated well and we’ve been in tune as a team, that’s all we have to do.”

PENNRIDGE 16 5 15 18 – 54
UPPER DUBLIN 6 8 6 13 – 33
Pennridge: Sean Yoder 5 0-1 11, Mike Molettiere 4 0-0 10, Tyrese Lewis 3 2-4 8, Jon Post 3 5-6 11, Brett Henofer 1 1-2 3, Christian Guldin 2 1-2 6, John Dominic 1 0-0 3, Colin Post 1 0-0 2. Totals: 20 9-15 54.
Upper Dublin: Jason Williams 2 0-0 5, Nyjee Scott 2 2-3 6, Corby Watkins 2 2-3 6, Cory Stover 1 0-0 2, Brian McCary 1 0-2 2, Brian Klammer 2 0-0 4, Ian McGonagle 0 6-6 6, Derek Lawson 1 0-0 2. Totals: 11 10-14 33.
3-pointers: P – Molettiere 2, Yoder, Guldin, Dominic; UD – Williams.

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