Academy Park off the mark in loss to Conestoga

TREDYFFRIN — The District One Class AAAA basketball seedings looked just about right judging by what happened here Wednesday night.

Top-seeded Conestoga, which was extended in its first playoff start, cruised to a 54-31 win over a worthy opponent in 17th-seeded Academy Park.

The Pioneers (22-3) entertain Ridley, the ninth seed, in the quarterfinals this Friday.

The Knights (17-7) are hanging on a heartbeat as they oppose Great Valley Friday in the playback round. A heartbeat tops the alternative, which is what Knights coach Allen Brydges explained to his players.

“I told them that if you had told me when the season started that we’d play at home on Friday night with a chance to continue toward states we’d all be happy,’ Brydges said. “We’d all sign up for that.’

You could probably lay some pretty good odds that the Knights will shoot better than 6-for-35 in the first three quarters from here on out.

The Knights trailed, 24-10, at the half. The lead grew to 24 points in the fourth quarter.

“It’s real frustrating,’ said Travis Smith, who led the Knights with 14 points. “We were taking bad shots throughout the whole game.’

Smith and Jawan Collins, who was held to seven points, couldn’t get their shots to fall over the Pioneers’ zone defense until it was too late.

The Pioneers are big and balanced. Darryl Caldwell, Andrew Diehl and Martin Dorsey all scored in double figures.

Conestoga tallied 16 free throws compared to eight for the Knights, most of which came with the game out of hand in the final frame.

“We got good shots early,’ Brydges said. “They just didn’t fall. We didn’t attack enough, either. We settled for jump shots. We average close to 19 free throws. We shoot more free throws than probably anybody around. And we didn’t get any free throws. And it wasn’t the officials. We just weren’t attacking the rim.’

Knights senior DayJuan Henson felt he and his teammates strayed too far from the game plan, which was to work the ball in to the scorers. The Knights flunked the patience portion of the test.

“We just had a bad night tonight,’ Henson said. “The coach can’t really say much about that, I don’t think. We’ve got to execute better. We’ve got to make layups. We’ve got to try to get each other open. We can’t play selfish. We’ll be all right if we can take care of that.’

The Knights played solid defense, but couldn’t find the basket in the first half, one in which they didn’t get to the free throw line.

The Pioneers were a sizzling 7-for-29 from the floor in the first half, excuse the sarcasm. But they also were 8 of 11 from the foul line, the bulk of it thanks to entry passes to their big men, who had a sizable advantage over the Knights.

Caldwell, unable to convert several open perimeter shots, closed the half with three straight layups. The final one was show time, as Caldwell pulled the ball back on the dribble and hung in the air before banking the ball in giving the Pioneers a 14-point lead at the intermission.

“You can always play better,’ Pioneers coach Mike Troy said. “But I tell you, I thought we played pretty good tonight. Academy Park is a very, very dangerous team especially with their two scorers, Collins and Smith. You want to make sure you control the tempo. You want to limit the opportunities for those two and I thought we did a very good job of doing both of those things.

“Are we playing good right now?’ Troy said. “When you hold a top 16 team in our district to 31 points that means you’re playing pretty darn well.’

The Knights, just the same, would like a do-over against Conestoga, which was under a bit of scrutiny after beating Wissahickon, 39-30, in the first round of the playoffs.

“They’re the top seed, but they can be beaten,’ Henson said. “I think they can be beaten. I don’t know. But we had a bad night.’

To make that happen, the Knights need to remember how they play. In short, they need to turn the tempo up.

“If we play at this pace, we’re going to lose,’ Brydges said. “If we can get it to our pace, we’ll win. We’ve already moved on. One day of practice and then we play. It’s easy to move on.’

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