Plymouth Whitemarsh finds right balance in SOL semifinal win over Pennsbury

BENSALEM >> Plymouth Whitemarsh boys basketball is a perfect paradox.

The Colonials play a breakneck style, trapping and pressing on defense, causing a high number of turnovers. On offense, they rampage toward the rim, hoisting all manner of shots, their marksman waiting for kick-outs and their towering sophomore ready to clean up misses or put away pases.

It’s at once chaotic and still within the confines of the system. What allows it to work is discipline.

Saturday night, PW showed what it can do when its organized chaos plays with the right kind of discipline, topping Pennsbury 64-48 in the Suburban One League semifinals held at Bensalem. Three players scored in double figures for the Colonials, who will face Abington at 8 p.m. Monday in the final at Souderton.

“It’s hard to really control it,” PW wing Cheo Houston said with a bit of a laugh. “We’re kind of a streetball team, but one that has discipline. We try to make the right plays and be disciplined on offense and not make too many turnovers.”

Houston, a 6-foot-3 senior, provided a sterling example of what PW’s style can do. He scored 17 points, almost all on driving layups, had four rebounds, two assists and had seven steals. Guard Ish Horn scored a team-high 18 points with nine rebounds and a pair of steals while sophomore center Naheem McLeod scored 17 points.

It was a very balanced effort for PW (20-3), which was without guard Ahmin Williams, out with a foot injury. Williams is normally the defensive wrecker that makes so much of the team go, but Houston, Horn and Ahmin’s twin brother Ahmad filled the role together.

The Colonials scored the first eight points of the game, then in what would become a theme, the Falcons (15-8) responded only to have PW put together a response in response to the response.

“It’s been a tricky season and it’s a tricky bunch,” PW coach Jim Donofrio said. “They’re very athletic guys and you’re trying to teach some things, control some things and you’re trying to evolve and grow up a bit and it takes some time. They just want to go, they’re ‘go’ guys.”

The tournament presented PW an interesting opportunity. Donofrio calls the postseason the “final phase” of the season and said Saturday’s game was a chance to experiment with some things. With PW all but assured of a first-round District 1-6A playoff bye, Saturday and now Monday also gave the Colonials two high-level games to try and bridge the gap.

Mark Flagg put in a good effort for Pennsbury, scoring 18 points, but his teammates weren’t able to match the output coming from PW. Playing against a disruptive defense is nothing new for the Falcons, but they just couldn’t seem to ever get calmed down and settled into the game.

“Get out of your own way, that’s been our message for a while,” Pennsbury coach Bill Coleman said. “We kept telling them let’s do what we know how to do. You face this stuff all year long; get out of your own way. We were over-prepared for PW and that was maybe the problem.”

The old cliché that basketball is a game of runs really applied to this one. PW had an 8-0 run, 7-2 run and another 8-0 run all in the first half while Pennsbury had a pair of 6-0 spurts. It was the same case in the second half, with the Falcons putting together a 7-3 and 12-2 run, the latter pulling Pennsbury within 50-43 in the fourth quarter.

Naturally, PW answered that run with a run, scoring seven of the next nine points. The Colonials also had a 10-0 spree in the second half of the third that helped them to a 48-35 lead after three quarters.

“We want to start out fast and then it lets us control the game for the rest of the game,” Houston said. “If they make a run, we just respond. It’s all about what we want to do at the beginning of the game in every game.”

With it being that final phase Donofrio talked about, he also said it’s the time where he’s able to let the reins go a little bit and let his guys play with abandon. He understands this group is going to turn the ball over, but he can live with it because it’s also going to force a lot of turnovers.

While PW may look frenzied at times, Houston said the team practices how to play its style and keep that discipline that holds the whole thing together.

“We’ve got some concepts, we’ve got some smarts and we see a lot of different things, so let’s get back to the freelance pace,” Donofrio said. “That’s what it takes to win these things. I don’t care how many beautiful offenses you run. I learned watching Chester, 23 district titles, you can run the most beautiful offense in the world but if you don’t bring the heat and the athleticism, you have to play it together, but it’s about the athletes playing basketball well. We have the athletes, we’re playing ok and the interesting thing about these games is you get to experiment.”

After Pennsbury made it a seven-point game with 5:01 to play, the Colonials quickly regained control of the game, a basket by McLeod with 3:49 left giving PW a 57-45 lead.

“We’re going to attack,” Houston said. “It’s good for us because we can have a game to set us up for districts. This is a good team that’s going to have a top-10 seed, so it was good for us to get a win like tonight in this tournament.”

Plymouth Whitemarsh 64, Pennsbury 48
Pennsbury 8 13 14 13 – 48
Plymouth Whitemarsh 15 15 18 16 – 64
Pennsbury (48): Vaughn Ward 2 0-2 4, Billy Warren 2 1-2 5, Tyler Sessa-Reeves 3 2-2 8, Joey Monaghan 1 0-0 2, Mark Flagg 7 1-2 18, Raylil Winton Law 2 1-3 5, Addison Howard 2 0-0 4, Chad Weldon 1 0-0 2. Totals: 20 5-11 48.
Plymouth Whitemarsh (64): Ish Horn 8 1-1 18, Naheem McLeod 7 3-3 17, Matt Walker 2 0-0 5, Cheo Houston 8 1-3 17, Ahmad Williams 1 0-0 3, Alan Glover 2 0-0 4. Nonscoring: Kevin Tilghman, Kareem Breeden, Jason Paul, Danny Cooper. Totals: 28 5-7 64.

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