Norwood makes history, then pushes Penncrest to final

NEWTOWN SQUARE >> In the minds of many around the Penncrest boys basketball program, the number 1,551 loomed large this season.

For Tyler Norwood, the only one who ultimately had the power to vault that historic standard, it would be more of a byproduct than a long-term goal, merely something that might happen one day if Norwood accomplished many more granular goals.

“Every night, I just went out and played basketball,” Norwood said Sunday. “I didn’t really worry about if I was breaking a record or not. All I worry about is winning championships. It just so happened that I was close and able to do that.”

Sunday, Norwood was able to do both.

The Penncrest senior guard and reigning Daily Times Boys Basketball Player of the Year scored a game-high 22 points to get past Upper Darby, 52-39, in the Central League semifinals at Marple Newtown and set the Penncrest all-time scoring mark.

Norwood has 1,559 career points, surpassing the mark of 1,551 set by Corey Johnson to become the most prolific scorer in Lions history.

Penncrest’s Tyler Norwood goes in for a layup in the second quarter during the Central League semifinals Sunday. (Mikey Reeves/For Digital First Media)

He passed Johnson at 2:42 of the third quarter with a pull-up jumper in the lane for his 15th and 16th points of the night. Norwood finished with 22, the only Lion in double-figures. Justin Heidig (eight rebounds), Matt Arbogast (10 boards, three blocks) and Malcolm Williams (seven rebounds) each provided eight points and vital defense.

The latter commodity set Penncrest (21-2) apart to book a spot opposite No. 2 seed Lower Merion in Tuesday’s final at Harriton (8 p.m.). The Royals were held scoreless for the first quarter, Penncrest amassing a 9-0 lead. It took six minutes for the fourth-seeded Royals (16-7) to even attempt a two-pointer, and that low-post domination manifested in Penncrest’s 37-26 edge on the boards.

“Our main goal was to keep them out of the paint,” Arbogast said. “We just made a wall to keep them out of the paint and to make them (into) shooters. That worked out in the first quarter without them scoring. We kept that motivation like coach said and took it all the way to the finish.”

Upper Darby never remedied that discombobulated start, though it rallied to get within two points midway through the third quarter. But fueled by eight Norwood points in the frame, Penncrest closed on a 12-2 run which grew to 16-2 before Upper Darby found an answer.

The lead ballooned to 44-26 before Penncrest called off the dogs, and only a pair of fourth-quarter 3-pointers by Jalun Trent (13 points) got the Royals back to a semi-respectable score line.

“We weren’t sharing the ball like we’re used to,” Trent said. “We weren’t sharing the ball, we weren’t getting back on D. They really have one player, Tyler, who’s really talented. We just weren’t focused.”

Penncrest’s Matt Arbogast, right, prepares to block a shot by Upper Darby’s Jalun Trent during the Central League semifinals Sunday at Marple Newtown. Penncrest won, 52-39. (Mikey Reeves/For Digital First Media)

Diby Keita hit a pair of 3-pointers for six points. Magd Abdelwahab had just five points, muted so thoroughly in the first half that he didn’t attempt a field goal. The Royals were just 13-for-44 from the field (29.5 percent) and 6-for-19 from 3-point range (31.6 percent).

Penncrest’s tenacity on defense played a part. The Royals had beaten Penncrest, 48-44, in their only regular-season meeting, lending the Lions a little extra hunger. It just so happens that the only other blemish on Penncrest’s record was applied by its next opponent, Lower Merion, via a 67-59 decision Jan. 12 that ended Penncrest’s season-opening 11-game winning streak. Lower Merion also beat Penncrest in the Central League semis last season on a buzzer-beater by Terrell Jones en route to the title.

Those two nuggets of revenge have certainly been on the Lions’ minds.

“It’s huge revenge for that game,” Arbogast said. “Both of these games are revenge games for us. … We’re taking these games as two revenge games.”

“It’s sort of like the Patriots and the Eagles,” Norwood said. “They’re the Patriots, they’re expected to win. People are looking at us like the underdogs. We don’t feel like the underdogs, but we can get the job done if we put our mind to it.”

The team-centric sentiment is the more potent motivator for Norwood, more so than individual accolades. Hence the antsy, “let’s get on with it” body language he showed as applause lingered during a stoppage to recognize his accomplishment. Protecting a lead that had grown to double-digits for the first time was most prominent in his mind then … just as securing a banner Tuesday will be more important to Norwood than whatever number is eventually affixed to the one commemorating his stellar career at Penncrest’s gym.

“It’s an amazing accomplishment,” Norwood said, “but we still have work to do.”

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