Confident Johnson sends Glen Mills to District 1-AAA final

LOWER MERION — When pressed for the number of 3-pointers he’d made this season before Wednesday night, Glen Mills center Anthony Johnson quickly declared, “two.’

So when he peeled off to the corner of Harriton’s court on a sideline inbounds play with 6.4 seconds left in a tie game, he knew a reputation as a sharpshooter wouldn’t follow. But he also knew something else.

“My confidence in myself is up,’ Johnson said, “but my coaches, they don’t really want me to shoot that shot. I do everything I can not to shoot it. In that type of situation, I’ve got to catch and shoot, so my confidence is up.’

That situation produced a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Johnson, earning his Battlin’ Bulls a 55-52 win over No. 2 seed Lower Moreland in the District One Class AAA semifinals and a berth in the PIAA Tournament.

The No. 3 Bulls (18-6) advance to Saturday’s title game against top-seeded Octorara, a 68-65 winner over Pottsgrove in the second semi. Tipoff is at 4 at Plymouth-Whitemarsh.

Glen Mills will head to its first PIAA Tournament since 2009 thanks to the heroics of Johnson, who was saddled with foul trouble for three quarters but scored 11 of his 13 points in the fourth.

The final contribution came in about as unorthodox a manner as possible. With the game tied at 52 thanks to Danny Duffy’s latest daring drive to the hoop, Glen Mills nearly threw the ball away before coach Tony Bacon called timeout with 6.4 ticks left.

On the inbounds play in front of the Mills bench, Lower Moreland denied point guard Khyzeem Brown, who dished five assists, the ball. Instead, power forward Imhotep Davis fielded the pass, drove to the elbow and found Johnson, who paused ever so slightly with no one contesting him and let fly with the clock showing 1.9. It hit nothing but nylon.

“My thought process was just catch and shoot,’ Johnson said. “Davis passed me the ball, and I just shot it. And it went in.’

“I’m like watching it in slow motion,’ Bacon said. “I can never sit down, so I’m always on the move. I’m trying to follow it and I’m thinking, ‘ that might go in. that might go in.’ And it went in.’

Both ends of that decisive play informed Glen Mills’ path to progression. Johnson’s contributions, which included nine rebounds, two blocks and some smart basketball after picking up two fouls in the game’s first 5:17, were obvious. But less evident was the patience and judicious persistence contained within. “We want him to get the ball,’ Bacon said. “And obviously he struggled tonight, and I kept telling him, ‘ the ball’s going to come your way. Keep going, keep going, keep going.’ I always say, ‘ basketball is karma sometimes.’ And it found him.’

Davis’ input can’t be understated. Averaging 7.0 points per game, he stepped up to provide 15 big points, the secondary scoring option Glen Mills appeared to have lost when Johnson hit the pine. Davis scored eight points in a first half Glen Mills won, 20-19, and added a huge 3-point play late in the third quarter after Lower Moreland (25-2) stretched the lead to seven and threatened to pull away.

Most importantly, though, he and Nazher Sabree, the only player to come off Bacon’s bench, did the dirty work on the glass absent the daunting post presence of Johnson, combining for 17 rebounds.

“I’ve got to play harder,’ Davis said of Johnson’s absence. “I’ve got to get in and fight for rebounds because Johnson has a height advantage and long arms to get rebounds. That means my job is just to go even harder, but I’m willing to take the challenge.’

The challenge extended to the defensive end. What Glen Mills did particularly well was close out shooters, holding a Lower Moreland team that has gotten to the 70-point plateau eight times to well under its usual output. The driving force was a 4-for-19 night from beyond the arc, which included missing their first 13 attempts.

“Coach just told us, when they get the ball, put our hands up,’ Johnson said. “They weren’t coming in the paint that much, so when they got the ball at the three, put your hands up.’

The only reliable source of offense was Duffy, who scored 21 points and had to trade in his blood-stained No. 4 jersey for No. 14 midway through the fourth quarter.

“When I can get into the lane, I like the mid-range game,’ Duffy said. “I was looking for pullups and floaters. Lots of times when their big guy (Johnson) was out of the game because he was in foul trouble earlier, it was easier. I was just trying to help my team.’

By the fourth quarter, with big man Phil Madden enduring foul issues and Matt Cerutti hobbling noticeably, Lower Moreland was left with Duffy and Tyler Millan, who scored eight of his 12 points in the fourth as the teams counterpunched.

Davis hit a runner off glass with four minutes left, answered by a Millan 3 to put Lower Moreland up, 45-44. Johnson, a 52.8 percent free throw shooter, swished two from the stripe, then Brown supplied a superb up-and-under lay-in to accumulate a three-point cushion that Duffy shot down with a triple to tie the game at 48.

Johnson slammed home a feed from Brown with 1:46 left to nudge Glen Mills ahead, but Nick Smolda replied before Johnson threaded a no-look bounce pass to Davis to lay one off the glass and restore a 52-50 edge. Duffy had a riposte, spinning away from Johnson in the lane, hanging and hitting before Johnson’s triple set the final emotions of the day.

“I think we got all the shots that we wanted,’ Duffy said. “It just sucks that it’s in the district semifinals. … We only lost two games all season. It just doesn’t’ feel real that the season’s over right now.’

“I was relieved,’ Johnson said of his final shot. “I didn’t know what to think. I was too happy.’

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