Upper Darby makes up for shortcomings with inspired play against Downingtown West

UPPER DARBY >> When you look at Downingtown West’s roster and its quintet of contributors standing 6-foot-4 or taller, the natural inclination is to see a mismatch with Upper Darby.

When Royals big man Kymir Roper, generously listed at 6-5 but with outsized tenacity, perused the roster, he saw opportunity.

“I love the challenge,” Roper said, “no matter what anybody says.”

Roper played only a peripheral role in the ultimate resolution to Tuesday’s District 1 Class 6A contest, setting the screen that was supposed to get Mamadou Toure to the basket. Instead, Toure banked home a 20-foot jumper with one second left in a 46-44 Upper Darby win.

But at the other end, when Will Howard’s home run pass fell shy of its target, Roper’s hands were firmly around the ball as time expired, a fitting symbol for how profoundly he set the tone of cutting the Whippets’ front line down to size.

Upper Darby’s Kymir Roper, left, defends a drive to the basket by Downingtown West’s Jackson Luneberg Tuesday. Roper’s defense keyed a 46-44 win by the Royals (Pete Bannan/Digital First Media)

Roper scored seven points (all in the second half), grabbed eight boards and blocked two shots in a rugged affair. He contributed to 13 Downingtown West turnovers and gave no quarter in the lane, ensuring that every foray into the paint by the Whippets’ rotating corps of bigs met with resistance.

Roper’s ability to clamp down on the longer opposition fed directly into ninth seed Upper Darby’s rise to its first state tournament since 2013 — from the microscale of a 13-2 deficit to start the game to the rebound from last year’s six-win campaign — one bench-enlivening denial at a time.

“That gives us a major boost,” Toure said. “That’s what we’re talking about in practice, the big guys, that’s where their points come from. They stepped up tonight, Jalun (Trent) and Kymir especially.”

“It’s huge. And the emotion was there tonight,” coach Bob Miller said. “… We were physical tonight and we really got after it.”

Roper put Upper Darby up, 44-42, on a beauty of a pick-and-roll with Toure with 1:44 left. Naseem Roberson, who struggled to shake off a handful of hard fouls incurred, tied the score on the next trip with two free throws.

Upper Darby (17-7) held the ball for the final minute, abetted by two timeouts. The design was for Toure to key the attack out of the final break with 14.1 left, get a screen and either drive to the rim or draw a help defender and kick to a spotting-up Magd Abdelwahab, who struggled from the field but scored 10 points.

The plan disintegrated, Toure starting his drive with five seconds left. Roper screened, Downingtown West didn’t hedge, and Toure, after two dribbles to his left, pulled up at the top of the key, foot on the arc, and stuck it off the square and in.

“Coach ran up a good play for me to get to the rim and get fouled,” said Toure, who scored 11 points. “That was the intention. But as soon as he backed off, I just shot the mid-range. … I knew I had to do something. To get to the rim, that’s usually my job, to facilitate. They were smothering our best shooter, Magd, so I just had to let it go and make something happen.”

PHOTO GALLERY: Downingtown West vs. Upper Darby

Toure’s late emergence became necessary when Trent, who struggled to read the intensity of the game, fouled out with 2:36 left. His day was maddeningly inconsistent. In the fourth, he gave Upper Darby its first lead at 38-37 … then picked up his fourth foul seconds later on an ill-advised reach. His two free throws, the last installment on an 11-point day, tied the game at 42. But after two defensive stops, he charged recklessly down the lane to pick up his fifth on a charge.

Upper Darby’s Mamadou Toure, left, is congratulated by Floyd Wedderburn after Toure’s winning shot in the fourth quarter Tuesday. (Pete Bannan/Digital First media

Trent was massive when he was on the court, tallying four blocks, four steals and four assists. Even more impressive, he did it while jockeying between the two-guard spot and fronting in the lane as a de facto power forward against Greg Barton.

“They had a lot of pressure on the ball,” Barton said. “They were up in our face. They put a lot of energy to it, and we just folded under pressure a little bit. We just couldn’t handle the pressure.”

The 6-7 Barton led the way with 10 points, the same tally as 6-4 Howard. Roberson made two baskets (and attempted just four) to tally nine points and four assists. Starter Jackson Luneberg (6-5) hit a pair of 3s for eight points but spent large tracts of time on the bench. And 6-10 Stuart Macavoy had as many shots swatted as made (he had two points).

That inability to capitalize on the height advantage, with numerous lobs to taller opponents batted away or careless possession at lower altitudes swiped by UD’s industrious guards, is why the 24th seed Whippets (12-11) scored 17 points in the first quarter and 27 the rest of the way, landing in playbacks for one of the remaining two states berths.

“I think we got too comfortable with the lead, and that led to us being lackadaisical on the defensive side,” Barton said. “It went through the whole game from there.”

Give Roper more than a little credit for that, and the inspiration that he sparked did more than even a full stat sheet indicates.

“That proves that we can stop them and everyone on our team can stop them,” Roper said. “It shows that we have heart and we can keep it going.”

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