PENNSBURG >> It was a tale of two halves for Perkiomen School on Wednesday afternoon in their 66-45 victory over Phelps School.
After holding their opponents to single digits in the first half, the Panthers showed they could light up the scoreboard as well, tallying 27 points in the third quarter to pull away from the Lions. The game was a repeat of last season’s conference title game, which Phelps won 63-55.
“That first half was a slog,” summarized Perkiomen coach Tom Baudinet. “We’re just back from break, lost a couple days to snow… I don’t think we’ve found our rhythm yet offensively.
“But I’m encouraged by the 44 points we put up in the second half.”
Perhaps the story of the game was best told through the play of Perkiomen senior forward and leading scorer Nick Guadarrama. After an admittedly sluggish first half in which he scored only one basket, Guadarrama was “a different player” after halftime according to Baudinet, exploding for 18 points to give him 20 for the day.
“In the first half, I wasn’t myself,” said Guadarrama, “at least not on the offensive end. But defensively, I was grabbing rebounds, and getting No. 4 (Phelps center and Temple commit Arashma Parks) in foul trouble. Our game plan was, ‘don’t let him get the ball in his hands.’
“We have a lot of good role players on this team, my job is to be the leader on both ends of the floor.”
In a low-scoring and at times sloppy first half, the story was Perkiomen’s defense, which held Phelps without a field goal until the 5:11 mark of the second quarter. KJ Rhodes and Guadarrama provided chase-down blocks on what would have been easy layups for Phelps early, and Rhodes offered the offensive highlight of the half with a driving layup to start a three-point play, giving Perkiomen a 16-6 advantage.
After halftime, the teams began playing a more aesthetically pleasing brand of ball, combining for 47 points in the third quarter. Guadarrama got rolling with a 3-pointer right out of the break, going off for 13 points in the quarter. A strong finish to the third pushed the Panthers’ lead to 21, essentially turning the final quarter into garbage time.
Aside from Guadarrama’s 20, Perkiomen got 12 apiece from Chandler Brooks and Titus Wilkins in the game.
Defensively, the Panthers’ strong effort forced Phelps to mount any effort at a comeback from outside the arc. The interior play of Rhodes and Guadarrama held Phelps to only four field goals from inside the arc in the first three quarters, and perhaps most notably holding Parks scoreless until the final quarter.
The win improved the Panthers’ record to 8-3, an impressive start to be sure, but none too surprising for a Perkiomen team that the school’s athletic director, Ken Baker, calls “the best I’ve seen in my time here.”
The compliment becomes all the more impressive when you learn Baker is in his 42nd year at the Perkiomen School.
“That’s nice to hear,” said Coach Baudinet, “certainly high praise from someone who’s seen his share of successful programs.”
For Baudinet, the season has been a story of adjustment and perseverance, as the team lost their defensive lynchpin, 6-foot-10 post-grad Ousmane Diop to a knee injury before the season started. In his absence, several others have stepped up. Aside from Guadarrama, the coach specifically mentioned Tautvydas Kupstas, a transfer from Lithuania (out Wednesday with a minor injury) and Rhodes as contributors.
“But it’s been a team effort,” he clarified. “Without Diop, we had to be more conservative defensively. It’s a work in progress.”
Much of that progress came before the holidays, when the Panthers challenged themselves against top independent New England programs, including Northfield Mount Hermon, currently ranked third in the country.
“We played 40 minutes, a full college game, and they pulled away from us late,” Baudinet admitted. “But up until those last 8-10 minutes, we hung in there, played them tough.”
Wednesday’s win over Phelps is another step towards the Panthers’ ultimate goal for this season.
“You want to maximize your capabilities so that you’re playing your best basketball at the end of the year,” he summarized. “For us, that would mean being in a position to play for the Independent Schools’ (PAISAA) state title.”