Cheltenham gets back on track with win at Hatboro-Horsham

HORSHAM >> Just when Cheltenham looked like it needed a final push on Friday night, Trevonn Pitts delivered.

Hatboro-Horsham had cut the Panthers’ lead to six when it turned the ball over and Pitts received it with an open lane to the hoop. An emphatic one-handed dunk followed and after a defensive stop, Pitts again surged into the lane, finishing a tough lay-up to restore a 10-point edge.

Pitts wasn’t the only hero, with Jack Clark and Ahmad Bickley making some key plays as the Panthers picked up a needed 59-53 win in a hostile Hatters gym.

“It was definitely a big play, but it all started with the stop on defense,” Pitts said of his slam. “We got it in transition, our point guard (Bickley) was looking up and giving me the ball for the outlet and I made things happen. It definitely amped us up and we settled down on defense, which is what it was really about.”

Cheltenham certainly needed the win, coming after losing two straight and pretty much falling out of the running for an SOL American title. But the Panthers (16-5, 10-3 SOL American), ranked sixth in the most recent District 1-6A power rankings, are still alive for a first-round bye and have a shot at grabbing the fourth spot in the SOL tournament next weekend.

The Hatters (12-9, 8-6 SOL American) were ranked 20th in Monday’s update but had won two straight coming into Friday. The top 24 teams in 6A make it, so the Hatters are probably in. What Friday and Saturday’s game against top-seeded Perk Valley offered was a chance to move up.

Friday also saw Cheltenham short-handed. Starting two-guard Tim Spencer is out with a foot injury and Panthers coach John Timms was out of town for a wedding. Rodney Carson stepped into the starting five and Timms’ assistants unified to fill his role.

“It wasn’t really an adjustment,” Clark said. “Each coach preaches the same exact thing every single practice. It’s just a different face preaching it, but we’ve heard and we just go out and do the same thing every single time.”

The Panthers have grown into a battle-tested bunch by this point in the season, so they knew what they had to go out and do.

“What Coach Timms told them is it doesn’t matter who’s conducting the train, the train is still on the track,” Panthers assistant coach Faron Hand said. “We just have to keep moving forward the best way that we can.

“These kids are motivated, they don’t need anybody in there micromanaging them. Coach Timms did a great job of preparing these guys and our job was easy today, to be honest because everything is in place for them already.”

Pitts, who led Cheltenham with 19 points, burned the Hatters from the perimeter. A relentless interior presence, teams dare Pitts to shoot the jumper all the time. Friday, he hit four 3-point shots which he said, with a wide smile, was due to a good warm-up and his teammates putting him in the right spots.

Cheltenham led 12-8 after one, and 27-23 at the half. The first quarter was slow to get going, but the teams finished with a flurry over the final 90 seconds. As the game went on, it became a battle between Hatboro-Horsham’s potent senior tandem of Jay Davis and Clifton Moore against the Cheltenham trio of Pitts, Bickley and Clark.

Bickley chipped in eight points and eight assists while Clark scored 17 and played pretty strong defense on Moore, the Indiana bound stretch forward. Moore did put in 24 points with 13 rebounds but he needed a lot of shots to do it. Davis, guarded most of the game by Pitts, scored 19 with 13 rebounds but also had to work hard for his points.

“When we played them last time, (Moore) liked to post me up because I’m five or six inches shorter than him,” Clark said. “It was key for me to push him out with my forearm and make sure he didn’t get as close to the basket as he could.”

Moore had three put-back dunks in the game, but Clark said he could deal with that as long as every missed shot didn’t end in a dunk. Cheltenham also played a fair amount of zone when Hatboro-Horsham played lineups without shooters, which allowed forward Kyin Healey to slide over and help Clark.

Healey had a solid game, with six points, five rebounds and three blocks.

The Panthers took control of the game in the third, where they outscored Hatboro-Horsham 16-8. All eight Hatter points came from either Moore or Davis while the Panthers used two 3-pointers by Pitts and four points from Clark, Carson and Healey to take a 43-31 advantage.

It was a physical third frame, with Carson getting called for a foul while being run over by a Hatter player. The guard also got a cut over his right eye for his trouble, but got back in the game during the fourth.

“You just tell the guys stay calm, stay cool, we’ve been here before,” Pitts said. “Just don’t give up. They were at home, they had the fans behind them but the fans were down as well so all the energy in the house was toward us and that’s what kept us in the game. You just keep telling them no pressure and we’ll be alright.”

All season, Cheltenham has struggled with fouling and being in foul trouble for long periods of games. Such was the case in the fourth quarter, when they put Hatboro-Horsham in the double-bonus with more than six minutes left in the game. That, coupled with some turnovers early in the frame, allowed the Hatters to start chipping away.

Luckily, Cheltenham kept coming up with big, energy-giving plays. Clark had two dunks, both off steals in the first three minutes of the quarter before Hatboro-Horsham cut the lead to 48-42. Then Pitts came up with his big back-to-back hoops.

“It’s always a boost and don’t forget Jack’s dunks in that as well,” Hand said. “When Jack got that breakaway dunk, everybody was excited and hyped up then Tre comes back a couple plays later and gives us a big momentum-turner.”

Cheltenham also struggled at the foul line on Friday, missing four straight freebies late in the game that let Hatboro-Horsham get within 54-51 with 40 seconds left. A deadball foul sent Bickley to the stripe where he canned both attempts, putting the Panthers back up with five.

After a far-too-easy Davis layup, Tim Myarick hit three of four at the line bookending a Hatter turnover to seal up the win.

“The coaches have confidence in each player that’s on the floor,” Clark said. “Whatever happens, we have the confidence in each other that the play is going to work. They had their run then we had ours and we just kept running with it.”

Cheltenham 59, Hatboro-Horsham 53
Cheltenham 12 15 16 16 – 59
Hatboro-Horsham 8 15 8 22 – 53
Cheltenham: Trevonn Pitts 6 3-4 19, Ahmad Bickley 2 4-4 8, Jack Clark 8 1-2 17, Rodney Carson 3 0-6 6, Kyin Healey 3 0-0 6, Tim Myarick 0 3-4 3, Jordan Paris 0 0-2 0. Nonscoring: Nadir Slocum. Totals: 22 11-22 59.
Hatboro-Horsham: Chris Edwards 0 5-6 5, Clifton Moore 9 4-4 24, Jay Davis 6 6-9 19, Ryan Black 0 1-2 1, Khalid Johnson 1 2-2 4. Nonscoring: Brandon Crews, Jake Schalki. Totals: 16 13-17 53.
3-pointers: C – Pitts 4; HH – Moore 2, Davis.

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