Defense ignites Pennridge in win over William Tennent

EAST ROCKHILL >> When Pennridge is geared in defensively, the Rams are one of the tougher teams around to break down.

That’s what William Tennent found out the hard way Tuesday night when Pennridge shook off a slow start and rolled to a dominant second half. Spurred by energy of the bench and a high-intensity defensive effort, the Rams topped the visiting Panthers 69-55.

Tennent (0-3) took it to the hosts early and built a 12-point lead midway through the second quarter before Pennridge (3-0) got back to its brand of basketball. Even with the win, Rams coach Dean Behrens hoped it showed his guys a few things.

“DeVon (Balmer) and Ryan Cuthbert really set the tone defensively,” Behrens said. “I thought those two guys helped us. The second quarter started getting out of control. I felt good enough not to call timeout because I wanted to see what we were made of.”

Danny Long and Max Wagner led the Rams with 23 points each while Ryan Cuthbert provided a massive spark off the bench with 13 points and nine rebounds, seven on the offensive glass.

Tennet was paced by 21 points from Anthony Woodard while Pat McCauley had 14

Through almost a quarter-and-a-half, Tennent was doing everything right to brew up an upset. The Panthers hit six 3-pointers across the first and early second quarters, passed the ball around and didn’t let Pennridge get many second chances.

Guard Pat McCauley was cooking in the first quarter, canning three 3-pointers for nine points.

“(Pennridge) does a nice job running multiple defenses and we just tried to find our shooters and get them open again,” Tennent coach Robert Mulville said. “A couple of looks we got in the first two quarters we didn’t get them in the second half, or just didn’t hit them. We had seven 3s in the first half and maybe one or two in the second half.”

A trifecta by Tennent guard Anthony Woodard with 5:21 left in the second quarter put the Panthers up 27-15, their biggest lead of the first half. Woodard ended the half with 14 points and was Tennent’s most effective offensive player with three 3s and a couple of buckets inside. The Rams’ defense had started to tighten up and the offense was about to do the same thing.

“I thought, let’s see what we do when we’re down,” Behrens said. “That’s where DeVon and Ryan really helped us out.”

An inbounds pass by Danny Long set up Stephen Lowry for a corner 3 that sparked an 8-0 spurt by Pennridge. Long had a bucket off an offensive rebound then Lowry split a pair of foul shots, chasing down his own miss and feeding Max Wagner for a layup underneath.

Tennent stopped the run with a really easy layup off a press break but the Rams responded to that with a 7-0 spree with two hoops from Long and a three-point play by Lowry that gave the Rams their first lead at 30-29. Markeith Alford-Baxter’s corner trey temporarily put Tennent up two, but Long got the pajama-clad student section back into it when he was fouled and hit both shots of a 1-and-1 to tie it up.

Knowing Tennent was looking to pull from deep, the Rams stuck with an aggressive man defense that featured plenty of switching and ball pressure. With a good number of similarly sized guys, the Rams could flip assignments and not lose anything defensively.

“We try to do it with Max, we can have him stick on a guy or he can switch,” Behrens said. “They’re all kind of similar I thought when John Ryan’s not on the floor so I said let’s try to switch everything, I mean why not? They’re all the same size.

“”But our on the ball defense has got to get better and that’s even with the guys I feel are good defenders. We got beat off the dribble and it’s hard to win in our league if you can’t stop the ball.”

Pennridge dominated the second half, outscoring Tennent 18-10 in the third quarter to break the game open. The Rams forced eight Panthers turnovers in the third while Wagner dropped in seven points in the frame.

Tennent did get a boost when senior John Ryan, its best player, made his season debut with 2:47 left in the third. Ryan, who is coming back from injury, scored 11 points in limited time and forced the Rams to put Cuthbert on him late in the game.

Wagner and Long took over on offense in the second half, while Cuthbert’s hustle on the glass gave Pennridge several second or third chances. The highlight play of the night came in the fourth when a tap-out rebound by Tennent went right to Long, who threw the ball upcourt to Wagner who then dunked in front of a packed student section.

Stephen Lowry also stuffed the stat sheet for Pennridge with eight points, five rebounds, four assists, four steals and a block.

The Rams now get into the heart of Suburban One League Continental Conference play and Behrens is hoping Tuesday’s game showed them there’s still work to be done. They have the talent and desire to go after it, but they have to bring the intensity from the start.

“All bets are off now,” Behrens said. “The league, in my eyes is very strong this year. If we come down to (CB) East and we go down 12 in the second quarter, we might not be able to come back from that. We caught a break that this group is young and not at full strength.”

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