Conestoga passes test against Lower Merion

All season long the Conestoga boys’ basketball coaching staff has preached to its players the importance of how successful they can be when they take their time on offense and make that extra pass.

On January 23, the Pioneers heeded the coaching staff’s advice once again and came away with an emotional 59-44 win over visiting Lower Merion in a pivotal Central League match-up. in the second of back-to-back league games during exam week.

“That’s the way we want to play basketball,’ said Conestoga coach Mike Troy. “It feels great to see how completely unselfish we were on offense and how we helped each other on defense. That is how we have tried to play all year. We played four solid quarters and got the win.’

“This win is a compliment to how the players got mentally prepared to play tough back-to-back Central League games during exam week. “They completed the task which was winning the game.’

Junior Martin Dorsey paced with the winners with 18 points paired with 15 rebounds while Darryl Caldwell added 16 points (15 in first half) and MJ Lezanic added 12. Corey Sherman and Jule Brown, who scored 13 and 12 respectively, led Lower Merion.

Conestoga (15-2; 11-0 Central League) showed the enthusiastic crowd of the good things that can happen by playing unselfish basketball connecting on 20 field goals with 14 coming off of assists.

“Anytime you can get that kind of ratio (assists to FG’s) is huge,’ said Lezanic, who had two of the assists along with being a recipient of two of those assists. “I love this style of basketball we play. The coaches stress the importance of unselfish basketball. It all starts with the four captains who set the tone and it trickles down from there.’

After Jack Lambert converted a lay-up off a feed from Darryl Caldwell to give the Pioneers a 14-9 lead it looked as though the hosts were poised to make that basket start a big run. Lower Merion’s KJ Helton had other thoughts when he hit nothing but the bottom of the net as the horn sounded to slice the deficit to 14-12 after one.

“I thought it was a big shot,’ Downer said. “That shot allowed us to be down two going into the second quarter but we couldn’t get any stops defensively. They were almost scoring on us at will and we had no answers on defense.’

Following a back and forth first quarter, Conestoga started to assert itself on both ends of the floor in the second quarter eventually building a 33-21 lead at the half with junior Darryl Caldwell providing a big spark tallying eight of his 15 first half points.

“I thought Caldwell was the best player of the floor tonight,’ said Lower Merion coach Gregg Downer, following the game. “His 15 first half points gave them the working margin they needed and unfortunately we had no answers.’

Similar to the Upper Darby game one day prior, the hosts went into the locker room with a comfortable lead. Seeing what happened against the Royals, the Pioneers were determined not to allow a repeat performance.

Conestoga came out to start the third quarter and buckled down not allowing the Aces to make a run and climb back into the game. As the Aces tried to claw their way back, Conestoga delivered a strong defensive performance and went 8-12 from the free throw line in the final stanza to come away with the win.

“We had a mental lapse (against Upper Darby) and did not want that to happen again,’ Lezanic said.

Troy added, “The players had one lapse, saw it and knew they had to buckle down. Lucas Yonda gave us tremendous minutes off the bench tonight. The team wanted to close out the game and that is what they did.’

If you glance the schedule it may appear the regular season is winding down but when you talk with the coaches there is plenty of basketball left.

“We have tough games coming up and we just have to keep working hard as a team and get the job done,’ said Troy.

Downer said, “We have to back to the drawing board. We are not playing well right now. We are struggling and we to find what’s wrong and fix it.’

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