Jones steps up in the clutch as Lower Merion downs Penncrest

LOWER MERION >> During a timeout with 8.4 seconds to play in a tie game, there was little doubt who Lower Merion would direct the ball toward for its final possession.

Just as there’d been no mystery when Tyler Norwood drained a step-back 3-pointer to tie the game 40 seconds prior, a play was duly dialed up for senior Terrell Jones, a player with a long reputation for last-second magic.

Penncrest’s defense anticipated that move, doubling Jones. But all primary defender Manny Ruffin could do — after the bespectacled Jones flung up a 15-footer while falling backward for the winning basket — was throw his arms up in resignation.

Jones owned the moment of the Aces’ 53-51 win over Penncrest in the Central League semifinals at Harriton High School.

“It was designed for me to get the ball, get downhill,” Jones said. “The play was drawn up perfectly. It was great defense; I think I just made a difficult shot. I just thank God that went in.”

“It’s a stab in the heart,” Norwood said. “We wanted to force him left, but he stopped him from going to the basket. That’s a one-in-a-million shot. It’s tough to deal with.”

The win advances to Aces to Tuesday’s final against fourth-seeded Strath Haven, which upended regular-season champ Conestoga, 62-54, in the opener.

The destinies of Norwood and Jones were intertwined Sunday. Each finished with 17 points, surmounting adversity along the way. And both rose to the occasion in the final minute.

Norwood hit three first-half 3-pointers, but was ineffective most of the second quarter thanks to two fouls. The junior guard struggled to draw whistles in the lane despite incurring plenty of contact and had precious few free moments from a constant defensive shadow, usually Darryl Taylor.

“It’s tough because the refs aren’t going to give me the same calls as in the beginning of the year,” Norwood said. “I have to find my own shots, keep moving. I found a rhythm with my first two 3s, but after that, I couldn’t’ get a call, so I just had to fight through it.”

Norwood got to the line for just one attempt and hit four 3-pointers. But he attempted just five; his frustration in the lane led to a 2-for-10 shooting day on 2s.

As he went, so did the Lions: Norwood helped Penncrest (16-7) lead 19-11 after one quarter, but with his diminished productivity in the second, LM closed the half on a 15-2 run to take a 31-26 lead.

In Norwood’s stead, the Penncrest supporting cast stepped up. Mike Mallon shook off a ghastly first three quarters of shooting to tally 11 points and nine rebounds. Malcolm Williams added six points. And Chris Mills, who coach Mike Doyle calls a “once-in-a-decade kid in terms of effort,” picked up the slack with 10 points, 10 rebounds and two assists, helping undersized Penncrest win the battle on the boards.

“He just gives every single thing he has,” Doyle said. “No offense to Chris, but those kids were unbelievable basketball player, but his intensity and his fire and his internal fortitude led him to being our leading rebounder, and he just fought for every basket.”

Lower Merion had its unheralded hero: Jack Forrest, who set the stage for Jones’ heroics with 15 points, 10 in the fourth quarter. With point guard Steve Payne (nine points) saddled with a controversial charge that wiped out a Noah Fennell 3-pointer for his fourth personal, LM was held to just five third-quarter points. But Forrest, who missed his first four 3-point attempts, nailed one on the first possession of the fourth, making his final three long-range attempts.

“I don’t think they really guarded me from 3 the whole game,” Forrest said. “I started out cold. I think I needed to just start taking my time and once my number got called, I took the chances.”

A Forrest jumper extended Lower Merion’s lead to 51-44 with 2:41 left. But a pair of LM turnovers allowed Mallon to rip off four straight points, setting up Norwood’s game-tying shot with 47 ticks left.

Jones, who hit a 3-pointer in the first round of the District 1 tournament last year to beat Penn Wood in overtime and send the Aces on a path to states, likewise didn’t miss his shot.

“We give him the ball at the end of every game when it’s close,” Forrest said. “He’s just the clutchest player on our team. Senior leadership taking us to the championship.”

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