Lower Merion boys basketball gets hot late to end Pennsbury’s season

FALLS TWP. – During his final moments in a Falcons’ uniform, Pennsbury senior Mark Flagg’s whole career must have flashed before his eyes.

With his team trailing 10th-seeded Lower Merion by three points in a District 1 Class 6A elimination playback battle, the 6-8 forward knew he needed to make a last-second shot from behind the arc to have any chance at continuing his time on the high school hardwood.

Double-covered, Flagg looked around for classmate Addison Howard but the point guard was well-guarded, too. With less than six seconds left, he heaved a desperation attempt that clanked off the rim. As fate would have it, Mark would latch onto a ball let loose by the Aces and as the clock neared zero, he turned and tossed an off-balance shot that dropped to the floor without ever hitting metal or glass.

With 21 points, Flagg did all he could to keep his team alive. In the end, Lower Merion proved the adage “it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”

After shooting a woeful 2-for-14 in the first period and 7-for-23 in the first half, the shots by the Aces started to fall. After the break, the Central League rival hit eight shots from behind the arc including a trey by senior Noah Fennell with just under a minute to go that proved to be the winning basket.

“We put a lot of work in on our three-balls and our free throws and today, we didn’t shoot either of them well, in my opinion,” said Lower Merion senior Terrell Jones. “In the locker room, we were saying, ‘in the second half, the three balls are gonna fall.’

“The whole season, we’ve been playing well in the second half and our three-balls do fall more in the second half.

“Thankfully, we got some big ones to go tonight.”

Still, the Falcons led 42-37 with just one period left to play.

“We were confident going into the fourth quarter but knowing what we did against Norristown, anything can happen,” said Howard. “We weren’t checked out, thinking we had the game won. We knew they could come back.”

That, the Aces did.

With 4:45 remaining in regulation, Jones hit a 3-pointer that drew the visitors within a point, 46-45. After the Falcons exchanged a pair of turnovers for Lower Merion’s one, LM sophomore Steve Payne (13 pts.) hit a layup that put his team on top 47-46 with 3:55 to go.

Pennsbury responded, however, with a floater by senior Tyler Sessa-Reeves and a driving layup by Howard to go up three points with three minutes remaining.

With Flagg back on the court, how could the Falcons lose?

The Aces reeled off an 11-2 run in the next two minutes, that’s how. While Fennell missed a 3-point attempt on the visitors’ next trip up the court, sophomore Darryl Taylor came down with the rebound and he dished the carom out to classmate Jack Forrest, who hit his second trey of the game for a 50-50 deadlock.

Howard hit for another layup but Jones answered with one of his own and the and-one, Fennell hit his game-winning 3-point basket and Payne added a pair of made free throws to put Lower Merion on top 58-52.

With less than a minute to go, Pennsbury just could not catch up. That wasn’t going to stop Flagg from trying. He hit a putback basket and made 1-of-2 free throws to give the Falcons a chance in the waning moments.

Just four nights earlier in another District 1 elimination playback, No. 6 seed Pennsbury pulled off the seemingly impossible, trailing No. 19 Norristown by three in the closing seconds. In that one, senior Billy Warren intentionally missed the second of two free throws, giving Flagg a chance at a putback. Mark made good on the rebound and the ensuing shot, sending the battle to overtime where the Falcons prevailed 84-83.

Whereas Howard led Pennsbury with 24 points in that one including four 3-pointers, he accounted for just seven points in this game with just one trey.

“The coach said going in they were going to try to take away Addison and Mark,” said Warren. “The rest of the guys had to be ready for any situation. And we all tried to step up in our own way.”

“Me, Billy, Ray – anyone else who was coming into the game – knew they had to step up,” added Sessa-Reeves. “I was confident going into the fourth quarter; everything was going well for us.

“But like Addison said ‘anything can happen at any time.’

“I’m just thankful to play with this group of seniors.”

Late-game turnovers killed Pennsbury in this game. The Falcons had trouble with Lower Merion’s defense, which was constantly changing.

“They went from a man to a triangle-and-two and we just had some mental lapses here and there,” explained Sessa-Reeves. “I take responsibility for that (turnover) at the end.

“Coach said Lower Merion makes you think your way through the game and we just had too many mental lapses.”

For his part, Jones was Mr. Consistency, leading the Aces with 22 points – 11 in each half – including a 3-pointer in all but the second quarter. According to Flagg, the lanky guard posed matchup problems for Pennsbury.

“He’s a 6-5 guard and he’s kind of hard for either me or Billy to cover because he’s a little quicker than us,” explained Mark. “And he has a few inches on Joey (Monaghan) so he’s kind of a difficult guard for our team to cover.

“He’s a great ballplayer; you gotta give it to him.”

A four-year varsity player, Jones and his Lower Merion team have reached states all four years Terrell has been on the squad. For the Aces, this is their seventh consecutive PIAA berth. They’ll host 13-seeded Downingtown West on Friday, March 3 in a battle for ninth place in District 1 then head to states Saturday, March 11.

Last year, Lower Merion finished third in the D-1 tournament but was stunned in overtime by Philadelphia Public League rival Simon Gratz.

TOP PHOTOIt was the last boys basketball game at the high school level for Tyler Sessa-Reeves (21), left, and nine of his classmates as Lower Merion came back to get past the Falcons 58-55 in a District 1-Class 6A consolation matchup Tuesday, Feb. 28 at PHS.

Lower Merion 58, Pennsbury 55

(Feb. 28, 2017)

Lower Merion   5 14 18 21 – 58

Pennsbury          9 14 19 13 – 55

LOWER MERION (20-8) — Terrell Jones 9 3-3 24, Steve Payne 4 3-7 13, Darryl Taylor 3 1-2 9, Jack Forrest 3 0-1 8, Noah Fennell 1 1-2 4; TOTALS — 20 8-15 58.

PENNSBURY (16-10) — Mark Flagg 8 3-5 21, Raylil Winton Law 4 4-4 15, Tyler Sessa-Reeves 4 0-0 8, Addison Howard 3 0-0 7, Billy Warren 2 0-0 4; TOTALS — 21 7-9 55.

3-POINT GOALS: LM — Jones 3, Payne 2, Taylor 2, Forrest 2, Fennell; P — Winton Law 3, Flagg 2, Howard.

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