Delco Christian draws on experience in comeback

NORTHAMPTON — It’s with a resigned smile that Danny Browne admits the source of his team’s confidence Friday night.

Down by as many as 13 points in the first half of its PIAA Class A opener, Browne’s Delco Christian team never felt on the verge of losing control, driving down a road they’d been on before.

“Unfortunately, that seems to happen to us a lot,’ Browne said. “So we’re kind of used to it. It’s just the way things go down.’

That quiet confidence was justified when Delco Christian used its District One Championship-worthy poise to pull away late, clinching a 59-53 win over District 12’s third seed Paul Robeson at Council Rock South.

Browne was the ringleader, scoring 19 of his game-high 22 points after the break on 8-for-9 shooting, helping Delco Christian close the game on an 18-5 run and outscore the Huskies, 22-11, in the fourth quarter to earn its first PIAA Tournament victory since 2006.

The Knights (15-13) got it done by grinding out possessions, being smart yet aggressive on offense and shutting off everything that was working for Robeson (9-15) in the first half. Underpinning all those Xs-and-Os adjustments was the belief that things would turn in the Knights’ favor if they executed the aspects of their game as they have all season.

“This has happened to us all year where we’re down 10, 13 points and we have to build our way back up and either come back at the last second or we come back in overtime,’ guard Wyatt Harkins said. “I think around the nine-point deficit, that’s kind of where it was. But I think we all knew that the game had just started. We had a whole new game, and we were used to being in that spot.’

The points of emphasis were simple in design, if onerous to execute against a Robeson team that scored 19 first-quarter points and led by eight at half over the sluggish Knights.

Delco Christian shored up its weaknesses by emphasizing better transition defense. They also switched to a box-and-one that isolated guard DJ French — who scored 16 first-half points — with Nazim Trammell-Wells, and curtailed the dribble penetration of the rest of the Huskies guards, enticing them into jump shots.

The result was just four second-half points from French, all from the line, while the starting backcourt of French, Jahir Lee and Thomir Jackson combined to shoot just 2-for-16 from the field after the break.

“They put me in a box-and-one and it took me out of my game,’ French said. “We didn’t adjust right, and that’s what threw us all off.’

“You just have to play good, fundamental defense like they teach you every time in practice,’ said Delco Christian guard Jordan Parks, who scored seven points to complement some tenacious defense. “Don’t jump, stay in front, don’t swat at the ball. Just stay playing solid defense because they’re trying to run into you and draw fouls. Just make a good, solid contest.’

Where DC’s defensive adjustments stymied Robeson, the Knights adapted to the Huskies’ new looks. The 2-3 zone that stagnated Robeson invigorated Delco Christian, and not just thanks to three triples nailed by Browne.

The string-puller was Harkins, who scored 12 points but really made his mark with nine assists, attacking the soft spots of the zone and feeding Grant Fischer (13 points, nine rebounds) and cutters in the post. Aided by rampant foul trouble for the Huskies that saddled all four of their forwards with at least two fouls each by halftime, Harkins exploited any gap in spacing he could find.

“I had a lot of turnovers in the first half, and I was trying to cut that down and make the smart, open pass instead of trying to force the right play,’ Harkins said. “I think it was just, even though the shots weren’t falling, I was just trying to affect the game the best way I could.’

The second half had all the hallmarks of a game where Delco Christian spent so much energy in the fight back that it never got around to getting a lead. They yo-yoed to within one possession several times in the third quarter, unable to negate the havoc wreaked on the offensive glass by Willie Grant, who scored 11 of Robeson’s 13 third-quarter points in one of his few extended runs between fouls.

Three possessions into the fourth quarter, and the Robeson lead had ballooned back to seven at 48-41, thanks to a Lee bucket.

But those were the Huskies’ last points for some six minutes as DC embarked on a 14-0 run. Browne buried a corner 3-pointer to tie the game at 48, then Fischer picked a Robeson pocket and was rewarded with a Harkins feed for a layin to surge DC ahead for good, 50-48, with 3:34 left.

Harkins followed with a three-point play that marked the last instance the teams were separated by one possession, and Browne put the icing on the cake with a pair of buckets in the waning moments to send the Knights advancing on.

“It means the next round, we’re still in it,’ Parks said, with a smile altogether different than Browne’s. “Sixteen teams left, and we’re one of them.’

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