LOWER MORELAND >> There are only so many ways to say Lower Moreland senior Danny Duffey excels at the craft of point guard.
So in this instance, his numbers will replace any witty saying. Saturday afternoon in the quarterfinals of the District 1 Class AAA boys basketball tournament, Duffey put on a tour-de-force performance as the top seed Lions topped No. 8 Pottstown 77-58.
In the first game of what he and his teammates hope is a long playoff run, Duffey shredded the Trojans defense to the tune of a career-high 41 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. He scored his points on just 22 shots and hit on 13-of-18 attempts at the foul line.
“With 41, I get 15 of those and he gets the rest,” Lower Moreland coach Seth Baron joked. “I don’t remember the last time somebody had that, so it was pretty awesome. He’ll tell you that he should have had more because of those missed free throws.”
Before Duffey could get into his act, Lower Moreland had to get out of its own way. The Lions were abnormally flat to start the game and an athletic and determined Pottstown team, beating the Lions up on the glass and taking a 6-4 lead midway through the first quarter.
Baron, who would much rather encourage and praise his players for anything they do on the floor, took a timeout and let them have it. The message got through and LM ripped off the next seven points and closed the period on a 12-2 running spanning the last 2:55 of play.
Duffey had four points after one, but really took off in the second while Pottstown’s Larry Wingo (21 points for the game) did everything he could to keep Pottstown afloat. Duffey pocketed 15 points in the frame, plus three assists, two of those going to Tyler Millan for 3-pointers. Pottstown came out in a 3-2 zone but once LM started to hit shots, the Trojans got pulled into man defense, which is not their strength.
“They were able to pull us out of our zone and we don’t play man very well,” Pottstown coach Cal Befield said. “That hurt us. Foul trouble hurt us. That’s been our story all year, but the kids showed heart and they showed fight and we have no regrets.”
With Millian, who had 19 points and hit five treys spacing the floor, Duffey had plenty of room to operate.
“When we started to push the ball, they couldn’t set their defense up as easily,” Duffey said. “When they weren’t set, there were more open lanes, we were able to get to the basket and eventually they came out and went man and they seemed to have trouble stopping us in man-to-man.”
Duffey didn’t hit a 3-pointer, but once he started going to the basket, he either scored or got fouled and went to the line, where he started 9-of-9. While the senior scored a lot on Saturday, his primary role is to run the team and he pointed out plenty of things his teammates did to help.
Shooter Nick Smolda had an off day, but Duffey said that teams just having to respect him opens up cracks of space and Millan’s impact was huge. After Pottstown had started so well on the glass, freshman starter Forrest Keys and reserve Coby Wiggins got LM back in the glass game with their box-outs and leaps to contest rebounds.
“When Ty’s hitting shots, it makes my life so much easier,” Duffey said. “If he’s not hitting those shots, I’m probably not getting so many easy layups.”
Pottstown never stopped coming at Lower Moreland though, and the Trojans had a late surge in them. Defensively, Lower Moreland likes to press and trap, but with good athletes at all five spots, Pottstown was able to break that pressure a number of times.
After Lower Moreland went up 55-43 at the end of three, with Duffey providing 13 of the 14 team points in the frame, Pottstown roared back to start the fourth. Shamir Edwards helped kick off an 8-0 run that cut the lead to 58-51 with 5:31 to go.
Duffey got fouled 12 seconds later and that set up a key chain of plays that helped the Lions settle back down.
“I was missing foul shots and you have to make those to put teams away but I made the front end of one, Forrest got us a second chance and I got an easy layup,” Duffey said. “After that, if we could that one stop, I knew it would take the wind out from their sail and let us get back in control.”
Keys’ offensive rebound, one of 10, set up the unorthodox three-point play then the freshman forward fed Millan for a big 3 to push the lead back to 10 with 4:33 left. Duffey found Dicky Rhoads for a triple with 2:58 left that made it 70-54 and Lower Moreland was able to close it out from their with Duffey scoring five of the last seven and assisting the other bucket.
“We just broke them down one or two plays at a time,” Baron said. “The guys responded.”
LM awaits the winner of Bishop Shanahan — a 65-43 winner over Pope John Paul II — in the semifinals 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Wissahickon. Last year, as the top seed, Lower Moreland was knocked out of the playoffs in the semifinals, denying them a chance at states. Knowing they need to win one more game to get there, the Lions are very aware it’s on them to get it done.
“We definitely remember the feeling of last year,” Duffey said. “That was one of the worst feelings ever. The core of our team was on that team last year, we’re back and we have that experience. It’s a big group of seniors and we want to go out with a district championship. I think we have the tools to do it, we just have to show up and play.”