RIDLEY >> Lower Merion’s kill-the-clock strategy was going swimmingly, right up until the moment that Steve Payne released his free throw on the front end of a one-and-one.
Up six points on Ridley with 3:04 to play Friday, the Aces had ground down a minute of clock and earned a trip to the line for their point guard to extend the cushion to eight. But Payne’s shot clanged off the left side of the iron and fell toward the floor, presumably for Ridley to jet up the floor for a chance to cut the deficit to one possession.
Instead, Terrell Jones swooped in, grabbed the rebound and turned the tide of momentum irretrievably back to the Aces.
Jones’ putback keyed an 11-2 run in the fourth quarter to help Lower Merion survive with a 63-62 margin over Ridley.
“That’s a really big momentum play,” Payne said. “That’s crazy. That was the game-changer, honestly.”
The back-breaking lay-in was compounded by a Noah Fennell steal on the next possession and a behind-the-back bounce pass to Payne for a layup in transition that put the Aces up double-digits at 54-44.
Lower Merion would need every bit of that padding, as the Aces (13-7, 11-3 Central League) faltered at the line and Ridley charged back. Jones’ basket aside, the literal difference was one free throw made by Theo Henry with 4.1 seconds left, his first shot attempts of the game, to build the advantage to four.
A 3-pointer by Damir Fleming, who hit five on the evening, swished home as the buzzer sounded, but with no defender in his vicinity, Ridley (10-10, 7-7) had no hope of the final point to tie matters.
Payne and Jones were at the center of Lower Merion’s second-half surge, courtesy of a little role reversal. The forward Jones scored 10 of his 15 points in the first half, but turned distributor in the third quarter. He added a banked-in triple, one of two such longballs on the night, early in the fourth as the Aces began to pull away.
“Terrell is a really good player,” said Payne, who scored 16 points. “He can run the point guard position. He can run as the big man. He knows what he’s doing so I trust him.”
Jimmy Bramwell gets a friendly roll. 8-0 Ridley run. They lead Lower Merion 17-15, 6:23 to half. pic.twitter.com/W6AY306il8
— Matthew De George (@sportsdoctormd) February 4, 2017
Payne, the slippery point guard, relied to his jump shot after halftime, hitting a pair of triples in the third.
“I think when they scout me, I think they’re used to me going to the hoop,” Payne said. “They’re not expecting me to shoot. I’m not really a 3-ball threat, but I’ve been working on my 3 all summer and I think I can make the 3.”
Jones finished with six assists, using his height edge over the Ridley defenders to launch cross-court passes to open shooters. Fennell hit a pair of triples, and Jack Forrest drained three to notch 14 points, part of Lower Merion’s typically efficient half-court offense that produced 10 triples on 23 attempts from range.
Payne’s connections, though, were the change of pace that opened cracks for others. Having a starting five whose members each scored at least eight points Friday make the Aces a challenging squad to beat.
Ridley hit its stride in the second quarter, using a 15-1 run to accrue a 26-16 edge. The method of choice was tremendous ball movement in transition, pushing the tempo before the Aces could set up a 2-3 zone look that gave Ridley issues.
“We just had a lot of confidence,” said Fleming, who scored 20 points. “The game changed, so we had momentum so we just tried to get in rhythm and our shots were falling, but we couldn’t come up with the win.”
Spreading the wealth also helped. Mike McMenamin and Malik Young (despite foul trouble) scored six points apiece, and Migel Gamble added five, mostly on easy baskets around the hoop set up by sharp passing sequences.
Lower Merion’s zone gambit paid off by limiting Ridley to 7-for-20 shooting from 3-point range. A triple from Liam Thompson (nine points) nudged Ridley to within four after three quarters at 43-39. Jimmy Bramwell hit a trifecta with 10 seconds left to creep within one possession at 62-59 and put the pressure on Henry and an Aces squad that shot just 8-for-15 from the charity stripe in the final stanza.
Thompson for 2, 57-53 LM pic.twitter.com/1znlUmTvfW
— Matthew De George (@sportsdoctormd) February 4, 2017
But Henry did just enough to make Fleming’s last fling academic. And at 10-10, with two straight losses and just two games remaining, that makes Ridley’s bid to return to the District 1 Class 6A tournament remote. The Green Raiders entered the week 23rd in the power rankings for the 24-team field, and might need some help to extend their season beyond next week.
Also in the Central League:
Penncrest 52, Radnor 32 >> Tyler Norwood scored 20 points as the Lions (14-6, 10-4) snapped a four-game skid by holding Radnor to just seven first-half points.
Mike Mallon added 10 points for the Lions.
Sami Ghazzi paced Radnor (7-13, 3-11) with 11 points.
Springfield 69, Harriton 59 >> Kyle Sullivan drained six 3-pointers, including three in the first quarter, to record a game-high 22 points and lead the Cougars.
Justin Collins paired 13 points with seven rebounds, and Great Orjih and Ja’Den McKenzie provided 11 points apiece for Springfield (12-8, 8-6).
Garnet Valley 59, Haverford 20 >> Austin Laughlin scored 18 points, including five 3-pointers, and Connor O’Brien added 11 as the Jags (13-7, 8-6) rolled.
Luke Verzella led Haverford with seven points.
Conestoga 65, Upper Darby 48 >> Bayir Hodges scored 16 points, and Noah Walker added 10, but a cold-shooting fourth quarter helped the Pioneers pull away and snap a five-game winning streak by the Royals (6-12, 5-9).