Scrappy Lower Merion falls to Plymouth-Whitemarsh in district semifinal

Philadelphia – Scrappy Lower Merion, the 11th seed in the PIAA Class AAAA District One tourney, gave No. 2 seed Plymouth-Whitemarsh a spirited battle in the district semifinals Tuesday night – the Aces kept forcing Colonial turnovers, and were tied with the battle-tested, senior-laden P-W squad 32-32 midway through the third quarter.

Lower Merion 's Jeremy Horn puts up a shot in the third quarter of the PIAA semi-finals against Plymouth Whitemarsh. PETE BANNAN-DIGITAL FIRST MEDIA
Lower Merion ‘s Jeremy Horn puts up a shot in the third quarter of the PIAA semi-finals against Plymouth Whitemarsh. PETE BANNAN-DIGITAL FIRST MEDIA

And although their eventual 53-42 loss in the district semifinals at the Liacouras Center was disappointing, it did provide Lower Merion with a learning experience for the upcoming PIAA Class AAAA state tournament – particularly in handling a tough defense.
Lower Merion head coach Gregg Downer said, “I told the guys [after the game] that we have 10 days before States, and we can go back to the drawing board, have some good practices, and do a good job in the state tourney.
“We had [18] turnovers – Plymouth-Whitemarsh plays very good defense. They throw a lot of [defensive] looks at you, and you need good guard play against them. … We rely a lot on the [three-pointer], and I don’t think our three-point percentage was very high. … And [Plymouth-Whitemarsh’s] ball pressure made it hard to get the ball inside to [6-foot-8 senior] Jeremy Horn.”
Both teams were applying constant defensive pressure, and the result was a game that featured turnovers and missed shots by both sides.
Lower Merion kept it close through the first quarter, and when junior guard Noah Fennell hit a three from the right corner early in the second quarter, the Aces trailed by only 16-14.
Plymouth-Whitemarsh came back with a couple of nice inside drives by 6-2 senior guard and co-captain Oakley Spencer (who finished with 14 points) and 6-4 senior guard and co-captain Xzavier Malone (who scored a game-high 19 points), and held the ball and a 24-20 lead with 40 seconds left until halftime. The Colonials held the ball for one last shot, but they couldn’t penetrate the Aces’ defense and the score remained 24-20 at the half.
Lower Merion cut the lead to 28-27 on another Fennell three-pointer from the right corner, and though the Colonials kept going to Malone for scores, the Aces tied the score at 32-32 with 3:36 left in the third quarter on Helton’s trey from the right side.
Plymouth-Whitemarsh kept getting the ball in Malone’s hands, and the Colonials had a brief run early in the fourth quarter that increased their lead to 43-34 with about six minutes left.
But the Aces came back, breaking the Colonials’ pressure defense for an easy basket by Horn, followed by a Fennell steal and KJ Helton drive for a basket, then Helton grabbed a loose ball and hit a short jumper to cut P-W’s lead to 43-40. Horn and Helton combined for 23 points on the night for the Aces.
A series of several missed shots and turnovers by Lower Merion followed, and Spencer, who was getting fouled by the aggressive LM defense, continued to cash in on his free throws.
Even with a minute to go and a 10-point lead, Plymouth-Whitemarsh continued its pressure defense against Lower Merion, and in the closing minute, Downer sent some of his young players out on the court – freshmen Darryl Taylor, Theo Henry, Jack Forrest, Matt O’Connor and junior Najja Walker-X.
“You don’t know how many times you’ll get to Districts, and I wanted to give those five guys the opportunity to run up and down the floor a few times,” said Downer.

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