Hopewell backs up Norristown defense in win over Lansdale Catholic

LANSDALE >> Good shot blockers find a way to lurk in the thoughts of every player on the other team.

It’s not an emphatic swat that’s their best weapon, but the ability to make the other guys think twice about entering the paint. If a shot blocker can do that, they start changing the other’s team’s shots without even putting hands on the ball.

Wednesday night, Norristown’s Darius Hopewell made his presence felt against Lansdale Catholic.

The 6-foot-6 senior thwacked away four shots but altered countless more just by being on the floor as the Eagles shook off a loss and got back in the win column with a 47-33 victory to spoil the Crusaders’ senior night.

“I just focused on paying attention to what they were doing and reading it,” Hopewell said. “Mostly, I just didn’t want to take back-to-back L’s”

Hopewell also scored six points, including a pair of dunks but his mark was on the defensive end. The senior added three steals in the first quarter and seven rebounds as the Eagles (15-6, 7-2 PAC Liberty) set an early tone. After LC rallied for a 6-6 tie midway through the opening frame, Norristown ripped off the next nine points for a 15-6 lead at the end of the period.

From there, it was an uphill fight for LC (7-11, 2-7 PCL), made tougher with Norristown’s eager guards pressuring the edge and Hopewell lurking behind them. The Crusaders also hurt themselves with seven first quarter turnovers and they really didn’t seem to find much of a rhythm offensively save for a couple second quarter runs.

“We did not come out with the energy I thought we would with it being Senior Night and credit to Norristown, they were active defensively,” LC coach Joe Corbett said. “We just couldn’t handle it and fighting the uphill battle, we couldn’t get over the hump.”

Wednesday was the fifth game in six days for Norristown, with the compacted PAC schedule putting a lot of minutes on their legs. However, coach Dana “Binky” Johnson felt his group showed a lot of focus and maturity with their effort on Wednesday, especially coming off Tuesday’s setback to Perk Valley.

Mikeel Allen carried much of the load offensively for Norristown, scoring 23 points with 13 coming in the first half.

“We pride ourselves on defense,” Johnson said. “It’s five games in six days so it’s tough to be really locked in but they were mentally prepared tonight. We knew it would be a tough game, Lansdale Catholic is always a solid team and they are used to playing against good competition.”

LC opened the second quarter on an 8-2 run and got within a possession at 17-14 before the Eagles scored the next eight with an Allen 3-pointer giving them a 25-14 lead. The Crusaders hung tough and responded with a run of their own, scoring the last eight points of the half.

The final 23 seconds saw LC score five points, with Mo Kahney turning a steal into a Kyle Kane layup and senior Luke Godzieba beating the halftime horn on a straightaway trey to pull his team within 25-22. Johnson felt his team’s focus slipped a little the last few minutes of the first half, but was pleased with how they regrouped after the break.

Norristown held LC to just 11 points in the second half and four in the third quarter. After the Crusaders got the opening hoop of the half to pull within one, Hopewell imposed himself with a couple of big blocks and the guards started pushing LC shooters out of their comfort zones.

“He was active, blocking shots and not even his blocks, he was affecting shots,” Corbett said of Hopewell. “We were trying to run stuff to get him away from the basket and it was not working. I think it was in our guys’ heads that if we get past that first line of defense, we still have to score against the big guy.”

Hopewell enjoys the boost that his blocked shots gives to his teammates on the defensive end and on Wednesday, his goal was to make himself know and be in the areas he needed to when he needed to. The players created a lot of their own energy on Wednesday and Hopewell said it stemmed from a desire to rebound from the prior night’s loss.

“One of our mantras is ‘active hands, active feet, every game be able to compete,’ and Darius takes that to a new level,” Johnson said. “He’s such a presence inside as far as his ability to block shots and be an intimidator in there. That opens things up for Mikeel. When he has games like tonight where he can do so many other things than score, it makes us a much better team.”

Corbett was upset to see his team take a step back after a huge win over Conwell-Egan earlier in the week but was confident his five seniors would be able to get past the result quickly. LC still has a lot to play for before its regular season ends next Sunday and that will be the Crusaders motivation going forward.

Senior Jack Kusters led LC with 14 points while Godzieba posted eight.

Tyler Lyons reached 11 points for Norristown. Hopewell got to cap his defensive gem with a fourth-quarter dunk after Allen hit him with a great outlet pass for a slam in transition. The Eagles will finish out PAC play with their Senior Night on Friday, then prepare for the league tournament and districts to follow.

“We’re together every day, after school, 24/7, we’re like a big family,” Hopewell said. “We’re playing ball together more than we’re at home, so that more than anything is what brings us so close together.”

NORRISTOWN 15 10 8 14 – 47
Norristown: Mikeel Allem 8 6-10 23, Tyler Lyons 3 4-5 11, Vernon Tubbs 1 2-2 5, Darius Hopewell 3 0-0 6, Willie Anderson 1 0-0 2. Totals: 16 12-17 47
Lansdale Catholic: Jack Kusters 6 0-0 14, Jimmy Bocella 1 0-0 3, Luke Godzieba 3 1-2 8, Kyle Kane 1 0-0 2, Nick Romeo 2 0-0 5, Tim Cunane 0 0-2 0. Totals: 13 1-4 33
3-pointers: N – Allen, Lyons, Tubbs; LC – Kusters 2, Godzieba, Boccella.

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