Archbishop Wood makes Palestra debut, tops Archbishop Ryan in PCL semifinals

PHILADELPHIA >> Archbishop Wood boys basketball coach John Mosco has taken part of plenty of games at the Palestra.

Prior to Wednesday, it was something he didn’t share with any of his players. The Vikings have been on the rise in Mosco’s four seasons at the helm but hadn’t yet reached the PCL semifinals until this season, when they finished first in the league during the regular season led by league MVP Collin Gillespie.

Wood’s first trip to the fabled arena led right into its second as the Vikings held off a resilient Archbishop Ryan team 75-66 to advance to Monday’s Catholic League final against Neumann-Goretti.

“You try to stay out of their way and let them get a feel for it,” Mosco said. “It looked like they were getting along just fine. We didn’t have to use a timeout and we made some shots in the beginning.”

When Ryan and Wood met earlier this season, the Vikings almost ran Ryan out of its own gym. With the Raiders having made it to the PCL semis last year, and just generally wanting to get even for that game, the Vikings players knew Ryan wasn’t going to be an easy out.

The Raiders leader, NJIT commit Izaiah Brockington, made sure of that. The senior scored 31 points and took the challenge of guarding Gillespie for long stretches of the game before he fouled out with 3:22 to go. Even when he went out, his teammates continued their valiant charge and didn’t let Wood relax until Gillespie sealed the deal at the foul line in the final quarter.

“It was going to be a closer game,” Gillespie said. “We knew they didn’t really shoot well the last time we played them. But when we play together, share the ball and get some stops on defense, we feel that we can play with anybody. That’s what we did tonight, we stayed together through the entire game.”

Gillespie, the Villanova recruit, scored 33 points, going 16-of-18 at the foul line in the game and also ripped down 10 rebounds in another all-around strong effort. Wood’s offense gets a lot of the attention and rightly so, but the Vikings are a good defensive squad even if it may not look it with some of the point totals they gave up.

While Brockington scored 31, the guard had to work for all of them. Gillespie, Matt Cerruti and Andrew Funk all took turns guarding Brockington, with Mosco jokingly noting they “each gave up 10 points,” but also filling the spaces elsewhere against the Raiders.

“It’s just part of being here,” Cerruti said. “You expect them to keep coming at you. All the teams that got here, they’re all good so we know every team is going to be coming whether they’re up or down. Our coaches have full confidence in us to keep shooting and keep playing and that’s all we did.”

Wood had a 30-15 lead in the second quarter, but Ryan refused to fold and scored 10 of the next 16 points, trailing 36-25 at the half. Gillespie said the coaches warned the players there were going to be ups and downs, especially in front of a sellout crowd, but Wood just stayed together.

Ryan clawed back throughout the third quarter, getting within 47-41 after a pair of hoops by Brockington, but the Vikings closed the quarter on a 7-2 run to build up a 54-43 lead. Again, Brockington came right at them, scoring his team’s first seven of the fourth, but only knocking the lead down by two thanks to five points by Funk during that stretch.

The future NJIT guard is a tough cover because of his size and speed, but also his hops.

“He’s a tough player to guard because he’s so long and athletic and he jumps really high when he shoots, so it’s tough to get a hand up,” Gillespie said. “He’s tough. He gets to the basket, pulls up, shoots 3s. It’s a matter of staying together on the defensive end and helping.”

Funk and Cerruti were Wood’s other double-figure scorers with 10 each, while Ty Pickron and Seth Pinkney each had eight.

“It’s definitely special,” Funk said. “I’ve been here multiple times but never to play and that was the most exciting feeling knowing I was about to play a game. It’s one of the most iconic gyms in the nation and I just tried to take it all in.”

Gillespie put Wood up 64-53 with 3:51 left, but Brockington came back with a three-point play then after Pickron split a par of foul shots, the Raiders scored four straight to slice Wood’s lead down to 65-60 with 2:51 left.

Brockington was gone by that point, but the Raiders twice more got the lead down to five, only for Wood to respond at the free throw line. Wood was 13-of-19 at the stripe in the final quarter.

Mosco, a longtime assistant at Neumann-Goretti before taking over at Wood, will face his old boss and longtime friend on Monday night. It’s also a marquee matchup of guards between Gillespie and Kentucky recruit Quade Green of N-G.

“Hopefully he can figure out what we do on his own,” Mosco joked. “Because I don’t even know what we do half the time.”

Archbishop Wood 75, Archbishop Ryan 66
Archbishop Ryan 9 16 18 23 – 66
Archbishop Wood 17 19 18 21 – 75
Archbishop Ryan: Izaiah Brockington 12 6-8 31, Chris Palantino 4 0-0 10, Matiss Kulackouskis 2 6-6 10, Fred Taylor 4 0-0 8, Jaquill Stone 3 0-0 7. Nonscoring: Bryant, Lang. Totals: 25 12-14 66
Archbishop Wood: Collin Gillespie 8 16-18 33, Keith Otto 1 0-0 2, Ty Pickron 3 1-2 8, Seth Pinkney 4 0-1 18, Matt Cerruti 4 1-2 10, Andrew Funk 4 1-2 10, Karrington Wallace 2 0-0 4. Nonscoring: Julius Phillips, Shawn Thompson. Totals: 27 19-25 75
3-pointers: AR – Palantino 2, Brockington, Stone; AW – Gillespie, Pickron, Cerruti, Funk

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