Conwell-Egan boys basketball stops Father Judge before Christmas break

FAIRLESS HILLS – Conwell-Egan Catholic’s (CEC) Philadelphia Catholic League (PCL) opener against visiting Father Judge Tuesday night at the Eagles Nest carried with it a special significance. It was the first time the PCL began league play before Christmas.

Add to that, Conwell-Egan unfurled the 2015 AA Class AA boys basketball championship banner from the Southeast corner of the gym before the battle even started.

The banner was a look back to last year, however, and of no consequence to the 3-ball shooting Crusaders. That’s according to CEC head coach Frank Sciolla.

“The banner is nice; it’s a great reminder of last year. But Judge doesn’t much care about that,” stated Sciolla.

“A lot of people have mixed feelings about playing a (PCL) game before Christmas and I’m definitely one of them.

“But our kids worked through the emotions of that.

“We made some plays, got some stops and knocked down our free throws.”

And that’s exactly what happened.

Trailing 32-31 heading into the final frame, the Eagles registered a 6-0 run on an opening jumper from senior Lapri McCray-Pace, an early 3-pointer from junior Kar’ron Johnson –his fourth in the contest – and a free throw by McCray-Pace, who got to the stripe three times in the last period.

Egan also made 10-of-13 free throws in the fourth quarter to help seal a 49-44 triumph over Judge Dec. 22 on the CEC home court. The win pushes the Eagles to 5-1 on the season and drops the Crusaders to 5-3, overall.

On a night when the Judge defense was collapsing on CEC leading scorers Vinnie Dalessandro and McCray-Pace, Johnson stepped up to the plate and hit a home run. The 5-10 shooting guard poured a trio of 3-pointers into the basket by halftime including two in the first period, helping the Eagles keep pace with the Crusaders.

“Kar’ron Johnson is playing really well,” stated Sciolla. “He’s a great example of a program kid – a kid who has worked really hard and battled in practice for two years and learned how to play.

“When given his opportunity and there were many that doubted, he has been able to step up and be really solid.”

Tied at 21-all at the intermission and down a point heading into the fourth quarter, Johnson hit for nine points in the final frame, including a 6-for-6 shooting performance from the foul line.

“We knew that they were going to collapse on Pri and Vinny and our coaches tell me and the other players, we need to step up and shoot the ball,” explained Johnson. “They know that we’re going to have the best shots because we’re the ones that are open.”

Midway through the fourth quarter, Judge junior Marc Rodriguez – who led the scoring effort for the visitors with 15 points – hit his only field goal in the second half on a one-handed shovel shot, drawing the Crusaders back at 37-34.

Moments later, Johnson spotted sophomore Eric Esposito along the perimeter on an inbounds pass. The 10th-grader coolly knocked down his third trey in the contest, putting the Eagles on top 40-34 with 3:15 to go in the contest.

“Dead-eye, lights-out shooter. He comes out and he knows what he can do. He makes the shots; that’s what he does,” stated Sciolla.

“What’s more impressive about Eric is that he doesn’t hurt us on defense.

“Defending a team like that is hard when your in 12th-grade, let alone tenth.

“He’s always in the right spot and he’s really trying.”

The coach is right – defending a 3-ball shooting team like Judge is not easy. Rodriguez hit three shots from beyond the arch in the first period, staking the visitors to a 13-11 edge by the end of the initial frame. After going scoreless in the first quarter, Judge senior Justin Fleming broke through for five field goals in the second and third periods, combined, a shooting performance that included three buckets from 3-point range.

Still, the Eagles did a much better job defending three-pointers in the second-half. After the intermission, the Crusaders shot just 4-of-12 from behind the arch.

“We really keyed in on that in practice, trying to make sure we got our hands up on shooters,” explained Johnson. “We wanted to make them beat us inside the paint instead of outside the 3-point line.”

“We disrupted a lot of their shots in the second half.”

With 55 seconds left in the battle, a pair of free throws by Johnson put Egan up 44-37. Judge answered however with a turnover on a jump ball, a pair of foul shots by Rodriguez and a layup by senior Quinn DeNofa to stay within reach, trailing 44-41 with 35 seconds left.

The Eagles responded by making five of their last six free throws and Reed hit a meaningless three as time expired to send the score to its final.

McCray-Pace hit six of his 10 points in the fourth quarter. Sophomore James Leible hit a game-opening bank shot and a mid-range jumper to start the CEC scoring in the second half. Junior Danny Green hit from 3-point range to give Egan a 31-30 edge with 1:15 remaining in the third period.

The win over Judge comes on the heels of a 57-56 win over South Philly High Dec. 18 at CEC. In that one McCray Pace and Johnson were co-scoring leaders with 16 points each and Dalessandro added 15. Sciolla says his team didn’t defend well in the game however and were just as porous defensively in the team’s only loss Dec. 12 at Archbishop Wood.

That wasn’t the case in this game.

“Our kids were tremendous in taking (Judge) out of what they were trying to do,” said Sciolla. “Vinny was great in the middle defensively and Lapri, rather than forcing stuff and running through, was able to make a number of inside out passes to get guys open.”

When given the chance, those players knocked those shots down, earning the Eagles their first Catholic League win of the season before Christmas.

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Conwell-Egan 49 vs. Father Judge 44

(Dec. 22 at Conwell-Egan)

Conwell-Egan 11 10 10 18 – 49

Father Judge   13  8  11 12 – 44

CONWELL-EGAN — LaPri McCray- Pace 10, Darien Simmons 2, Vinny Dalessandro 3, Eric Esposito 9, Daniel Green 3, Kar’ron Johnson 18, James Leible 4; TOTALS — 14 13-18 49.

3-POINT GOALS — Johnson 4, Esposito 3, Green.

FATHER JUDGE — Quinn DeNofa 4, Justin Fleming 14, Mackenson Juste 2, Matt O’Connor 3, Quincy Reed 6, Marc Rodriguez 15; TOTALS — 15 5-5 44.

3-POINT GOALS — Rodriguez 3, Fleming 3, Reed 2, O’Connor.

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