Practice makes perfect as Ross, Penncrest drain Springfield

SPRINGFIELD >> When the ball found Justin Ross on the right wing with a minute and a half to play Tuesday night, the Penncrest senior guard knew two things.

He set his mind on the shot he wanted to create. And he knew that the Springfield defenders he was about to attack would have one eye trained away from Ross’s dribble.

Ross feathered home a jumper from the elbow to give Penncrest its first lead since the first quarter, surmounting a 16-point halftime deficit in a 50-45 Central League victory over Springfield.

Ross dribbled twice to his left after receiving a swing pass from Tyler Norwood, then pulled up near the foul line, as is his preference. His aim was true, surging the Lions ahead, 44-43, toward an eighth consecutive victory.

“I practice that shot every day in practice,” said Ross, who scored eight points. “That’s my shot. The midrange, that’s my bread and butter.

“When I got the ball, it was a scramble situation. So when I got the ball, I pump-faked, dribbled to my left, and just pulled up. And as soon as it left my hand, I knew it was good.”

Ross also divined that the attentions of the Springfield defense would be honed on the player who passed him the ball, and with good reason. Norwood scored 31 points and dished five assists, having a hand in 15 of the Lions’ 18 baskets on the day.

That’s been the norm this year for Norwood, who entered averaging 24.6 points per game and recorded his third 30-point outing. But the decisive possession featured two looks by players other than Norwood. Mike Mallon air-balled a runner under duress in the lane, but Chris Mills corralled the offensive board on the baseline and outletted to Norwood to restart the offense.

Norwood’s savvy has spared Penncrest (8-2, 5-0 Central) from persevering for extended stretches without him this year. But on a micro-level, Norwood can’t be the go-to guy each possession, as Ross understands.

“One day, someone is going to have to double Tyler, and someone on our team is going to have to step up,” Ross said. “And I want that to be me. I’m ready for the opportunity when it presents itself.”

Mostly, Norwood all alone was sufficient. He was 8-for-8 on two-pointers and 9-for-9 from the free-throw line, making all eight fourth-quarter attempts. He scored 20 points in the second half; Springfield had just 11.

That’s how a 34-18 halftime lead evaporates, cleaved by a 16-5 Penncrest edge in the third quarter.

“We came in and (coach Mike Doyle) just challenged us,” Mills said. “He said we were playing like boys and they were playing like men, so he challenged us to come out, didn’t matter what the score was, but to play with pride. And once we got going, we didn’t stop.”

Both teams’ malaises owed to mistakes. Springfield (5-3, 3-2) built its lead on the back of a 6-for-9 first half from behind the arc, with Kyle Sullivan, Great Orjih and Alex DeAngelis each canning two deep balls. But they went 0-for-7 after the break and struggled to generate offense.

“We’ve had a problem with this for a long time where we just give up, we get satisfied,” said Orjih, who scored 12 points. “As soon as our shots are falling, we just stop playing hard and we stop playing defense, stop executing on offense. It’s just like a boulder down the hill.”

Sullivan added 11 points, but shot just 4-for-10 from the field. Ja’Den McKenzie supplied 10 points but was 4-for-8 from the line. DeAngelis tallied just the six first-quarter points.

“We just settled down,” Mills said of the defensive effort. “We said we’ve got to let them not score. Our main goal was to be down less than 10 at the start of the fourth quarter. We got there and we got the win.”

Penncrest, meanwhile, minimized the 11 first-half turnovers that robbed them of offensive rhythm. They shot over 50 percent for the game (18-for-33).

Mallon, who scored nine points, contributed four to a 12-2 spurt to start the second. Norwood scored 12 of Penncrest’s 16 in the fourth, despite a bevy of defensive looks.

But none slowed Norwood much. And as goes the explosive point guard, so too do the Lions, which landed at 10th in Class 5A in the state media rankings this week.

“We try not to think about it,” Ross said. “It was hard because one of our players said at the end of practice (Monday), ‘do you think we practiced like the 10th team in the state?’ Our coach told us we were 10th and were like, alright. … We want to continue to play hard and try to be humble and keep doing what we’re doing.”

Also in the Central League:

Strath Haven 53, Radnor 47 >> John Harrar scored 15 points, and Ryan Morris (13 points) and Jeffrey Conner (12) provided offensive support as the Panthers (7-2, 4-1) claimed a road victory.

Vernon Harper led Radnor (3-6, 0-5) with a season-high 16 points.

Garnet Valley 51, Haverford 32 >> Austin Laughlin connected on a pair of triples to score 20 points, and Brandon Starr added 17 for the Jags (7-3, 4-2).

Seven Fords scored either four or five points in a balanced offensive outing.

Lower Merion 71, Ridley 55 >> Damir Fleming hit five of Ridley’s 11 triples in collecting 19 points, but it wasn’t enough.

Jimmy Bramwell added 14 points, and Liam Thompson scored 13 for Ridley (5-4, 3-2).

Harriton 54, Marple Newtown 46 >> Mark Dever and Mike May each poured in 13 points, and Scott Hahn added six points and seven rebounds, but the comeback attempt by the Tigers (3-6, 1-4) fell short.

Conestoga 67, Upper Darby 45 >> Noah Walker scored 14 points, and Bayir Hodges added 10 for the Royals (1-6, 1-4).

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