Avon Grove cruises by Pottstown at Great Valley Tournament

EAST WHITELAND >> There have not been many easy wins for the Avon Grove boys basketball team the past few seasons. The Red Devils won only a modest seven games the past two seasons combined and that included five last year.

Tuesday night, in the opening game of the Great Valley Holiday Tournament, the Red Devils matched their 2015-16 win total as they completely dominated Pottstown, 72-46. The win puts Avon Grove into Wednesday’s title game against the winner of the Great Valley and Upper Dublin contest.

Avon Grove (5-2) took control of Tuesday’s game in the second quarter, jumping ahead of the Trojans (3-4) and eventually jetting out to 36-23 halftime edge. First year Avon Grove coach Roy Blumenthal watched his Red Devils shoot a sizzling 31 for 55 from the field, led by point guard Brandon McCullough’s 22 points and 6-foot-6 junior Dez Murphy, who tallied 19 points to go along with 11 rebounds. Blumenthal had his team primed for the game, as the Red Devils executed their offense pretty much however they wanted the entire night.

“It sure feels a whole lot better being on the winning side than it did the last couple of years,” McCullough said. “Our coach brought in a defense-first mentality and before we used to just freelance. If you run the plays he tells you to run, you will get an open look or an easy layup.”

In the decisive second quarter, the Red Devils went on a 10-0 run to take the air out of the Trojans’ sails. McCullough started the run by draining a three-pointer from the left corner. After a Pottstown turnover, one of 15 on the night for the Trojans, Aldred Russo scored on a runner in the lane, got fouled and converted the free throw. A Trojan miss followed and then McCullough scored on the baseline, courtesy of a nice pass from Scooter Whiteside. Pottstown threw the ball away again and Murphy drove uncontested down the lane to give Avon Grove a 33-20 lead late in the period.

“I had a size advantage and an athletic advantage over those guys,” Murphy said. “And coach Blumenthal has brought heart and passion to the program. He is not only making us nice players but nice young men also. It sure feels a whole lot better this season.”

Pottstown started to pressure the Red Devils coming out in the third quarter, but to no avail. The Red Devils won the third, 18-11, to take a 20-point lead after three at 54-34. Grove shot eight for 13 in the quarter and consistently broke the Pottstown pressure and got three easy layups in transition, icing the cake with two three-pointers on open looks, something that rankled Pottstown interim head coach Ken Ivory.

“We just did not see the basketball well all night on the defensive end,” Ivory said. “They beat us down the floor and our weak side defense was almost nonexistent. We have to get better defensively and we did not do a good job at that tonight.”

The fourth quarter was more of the same with Blumenthal admonishing his team after a turnover. The Avon Grove coach implored his team to keep playing hard no matter the score and called a 30-second timeout to get his point across.

“I was talking to (West Chester University head coach) Damien (Blair) today and he told me to let the kids go a little bit because they are athletic,” Blumenthal said. “They are starting to understand what I want and so tonight I pulled back a little bit and let them have some freedom. They are a real good bunch and tonight they got to do some things I have not let them do up until now.”

Pottstown shot a miserable 16 for 43 on the night and never got into a rhythm offensively.

One bright spot for the Trojans was the play of Tyshyre Malachi, who had eight points and played hard until the final whistle. Malachi showed the effort Ivory was looking for when he hustled to block a Red Devils shot with less than two minutes to go, despite trailing by 20 points at the time. Floyd Dashiell added another eight points while Aaron Diamond and Larry Wingo each scored seven.

“The kids played hard but we were not smart on defense tonight,” Ivory said. “We did not recognize where the basketball was and that hurt us.”

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