Downingtown East tops Penn Wood for first district win

UWCHLAN – When head coach John Goodman emerged from the locker room following Downingtown East’s historically significant 51-31 triumph over visiting Penn Wood in the first round of the District 1 Class 6A Basketball Playoffs he was soaked.

“We wet him up,” acknowledged Malik Slay, the Cougars star guard. “We had all the Gatorade bottles filled with water. As soon as he walked in, we got him.”

For the first time in program history, Downingtown East celebrated a district playoff victory on Friday. And perhaps even more impressive than the win was how the Cougars did it.

“For people outside our program, this may just be a playoff win,” Goodman said. “But for us, it’s a breakthrough. We’ve been fighting for six years just to put ourselves in a position like this, so to be able to get it done – without three of our top four scorers – is special.”

Regular starters Andrew King (ankle injury) and Corey Hernandez (flu) missed the game. And to complicate an already troubling situation, a third starter — Tariq Kalim — took a hard fall and injured his back early in the second period and never returned.

“We only have 11 guys and they’ve all played meaningful minutes in meaningful games, so when we got the news about Andrew (King) and Corey (Hernandez) on Thursday, it was disappointing,” Goodman said. “It was a hit, but we had to believe in each other.”

Seeded 12th, East improves to 16-7 overall and now advances to round two to face Ches-Mont foe and No. 5 Coatesville on Tuesday. Penn Wood’s season ends at 13-9.

“It was a tough night where the ball just wouldn’t go in,” said Patriots head coach Matt Lindeman. “It’s tough to win when you only score 31 points.”

The 21st seed, Penn Wood stayed within striking distance until the fourth quarter, when the Cougars scored the final 13 points. The Pats did a wonderful defensive job on Slay, limiting him to four points through three quarters, but he took over down the stretch and finished with 14 points.

“We were unlucky with injuries and illness,” Slay said. “But we didn’t want this to be the last game for the seniors so we took care of business.

“My teammates made shots and plays, and we played great defense. This was a win we all got together.”

Senior forward Nate Robinson made just the second start of his career and responded with 12 of his career-high 15 points in the second half.

“Nate’s been a bench scorer for us, but he’s worked his butt off. He waited and waited, but you could just see he was ready for the opportunity,” Goodman said.

“Everyone on our roster was ready to play,” Robinson added. “With (Hernandez) out I knew I had to step up. I felt like I could play like this, but I never really showed it until this game.”

Clinging to a 38-31 lead, Robinson sparked the final surge with a 3-pointer, and then followed a miss by Slay for a bucket. And then Slay finished it off in the final 3:10, scoring the game’s final eight points on a variety of drives to the bucket.

“(Penn Wood) had a game plan to get the ball out of Malik’s hands, and he forced some things early,” Goodman said. “But he is such a smart player, he knows how to read a game and adjust.

“He barely shot it through the first three quarters, but when you are trying to play catch-up against us, he just kind of closes you out, which is what we saw in the fourth quarter.”

The Patriots shrugged off a slow start with a second quarter comeback, and pulled to within a point on several occasions. But Robinson knocked down a pair from the perimeter in the third quarter that opened a 36-25 lead heading into the final period.

“At some point you have to put the ball in the basket,” Lindeman said. “I felt like we had the right people taking the shots from the right spots, and we just couldn’t finish.

“We held (East) to a score that should have been enough. That’s where we wanted it to be.”

Tangoe Donzo led Penn Wood with 11 points, but nobody else scored more than six. The Patriots were limited to just 13 second half points.

“We didn’t see some of those guys (from East) play that many minutes on film,” Lindeman said. “So to play like they did, you have to give them a lot of credit. Guys that haven’t played much for them hit some big shots.

“But that had nothing to do with how poorly we shot it.”

The Cougars dropped a pair of regular season meetings against Coatesville by three points and 13 points. But before even thinking about the third meeting, Goodman and his players took some time on Friday to soak in a milestone victory for the program.

“We’ve been working nine months for this, so it means a lot to us,” Robinson said.

“It’s hard not to get emotional. This is my sixth year and everybody who’s played a part in those six years has played a role in this. It was kind of a weight off my shoulders.

“We’ve talked about making history all season. This team has the most wins, most league wins and now the first playoff win.”


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