Abington's Darious Brown (11), Lucas Monroe (22) and Eric Dixon (43) celebrate with the District 1 championship trophy after the Ghosts' win in the Class 6A final on Saturday, March 2, 2019. (Andrew Robinson/MediaNews Group)
PHILADELPHIA >> It was the most terrifying few seconds of Lucas Monroe’s life.
The Abington senior was strapped to the bench, having fouled out in overtime of the District 1-6A boys basketball title game, left only to watch the final sequence as Coatesville tried to take the lead. Standing not a few feet away, Ghosts coach Charles Grasty was yelling for his players to get in, box out and rebound, although they probably couldn’t even hear him through the roar of the crowd.
Eric Dixon, under the basket and in the middle of it all, was probably the calmest.
The scene was chaos, the ball kept flying into the air and kept coming down in the hands of a Coatesville player only to go back up until finally, it wound up with Abington’s Maurice Henry. Somehow, the Ghosts had survived and somehow, they were district champions for the third straight year after outlasting the Red Raiders 74-71 in overtime at Temple’s Liacouras Center.
“It was probably the longest seven or eight seconds of my life, I was terrified,” Monroe said. “There were a couple of those layups that should have gone in but they held it down. We’re not a one or two man team.”
Here’s the thing about Dixon, save a rare outburst of emotion, he exudes calm and control. So, even with four personal fouls and in his own head pretty sure there was way more time on the clock than there actually was, he went right up to block one of Coatesville’s attempted game-winners in the final seconds of overtime.
“I had four fouls, but there was no point in saving them, we’re only up one and if he makes that, the game’s probably over,” Dixon said. “If I went for it and got a foul, then he’d have to shoot free throws and it would put a little pressure on him, I wasn’t giving up an easy two points.”
The duel between the No. 1 Ghosts (27-1) and No. 2 Red Raiders (26-2) lived up to the billing that had been brewing all season as the teams ran rampant through their respective nonleague and conference schedules. Two years ago, the Ghosts edged Coatesville for the first title in this three-peat and with a lot of familiar names still left on both sides, Abington knew what it was getting into.
“That’s your ultimate one versus two,” Grasty said. “We both were playing for this and we both gave a lot of people some memorable moments, especially for our community. They’ve supported us all year, but for years and years and I’m sure they enjoyed it.”
Coatesville’s Jhamir Brickus (2), right, ponders what might have been as the Abington Ghosts celebrate their 74-71 overtime victory in the District 1-6A final on Saturday, March 2, 2019 at the Liacouras Center. (Pete Bannan/MediaNews Group)
Pride is a powerful motivator and it’s something the Red Raiders have in ample supply. Sure, they were smaller than Abington, but there was absolutely no chance they were backing down from the Ghosts, even as Abington went up 25-12 after one quarter.
“It took a lot of grit, at this point, it’s not really about the plays you run but how hard you play,” Monroe said. “The fourth quarter and overtime, we were going back and forth, we hit big shots and they hit big shots. The crowd was getting into it, there were a couple times with the crowd just erupting where I thought ‘wow,’ and you have to try not to let it affect you and try not to pay attention to it.”
Coatesville’s Dapree Bryant was brilliant, scoring 28 points and the team’s engine, Jhamir “Jig” Brickus was just as good despite playing most of the second half and OT with four fouls, scoring 23 points.
Between those two and Tione Holmes, who gave up about four inches to Dixon but played his heart out alone, the Raiders didn’t lack for motivation or pride.
“Not that other teams are scared of us, but they came out like ‘we don’t care that you’re Abington,’” Monroe said. “They got right up in our face and made us turn the ball over and they played hard. It’s Coatesville, they have some dogs over there and they play hard every time they’re on a court. I respect that.”
“They’re perfect definition of heart over height, they play hard, it’s their culture and it’s just what they do,” Dixon said.
Dixon, who was among the last to leave the locker room and had more than one bag of ice tucked under his team jacket, fought a war on Broad Street. The Villanova-bound senior showed early and even more late that he wasn’t going to be denied.
Even saddled with the four fouls late, Dixon still posted 38 points and 16 rebounds as he and the rest of the seniors improved to 5-0 at the Liacouras Center in their careers.
“It’s my last year here, playing at a public high school and being able to come down here and win for a third time straight, it’s really special,” Dixon said. “I don’t think anybody else has been able to do that around here for a while.
“We didn’t get here just to get here. We come down here looking to win every time and we see it as we’re this close, why stop now?”
Coatesville’s Dapree Bryant (1) goes up against Abington’s Eric Dixon (43) and Darious Brown (11) in the second half of the District 1-6A final on Saturday, March 2, 2019. (Pete Bannan/MediaNews Group)
Dixon and Monroe combined for all 11 Abington points in the fourth quarter but even then they had to endure another Coatesville shot at the rim that didn’t go down at the buzzer just to force overtime. Monroe scored 18 points with 11 rebounds and was the guy bringing the ball up against the fiercest Coatesville pressure.
OT is only four minutes in high school, but that small block of time summed up the game very well. Abington roared out for the first five points, Coatesville screamed back for the next five to tie it back up.
Dixon scored off a feed from Manir Waller (eight points, 10 rebounds) then Waller converted a pass from Monroe for a 72-68 lead. Brickus answered with a three, cutting the lead back to one with 1:13 left.
Then, Monroe tried to drive and throw down a dunk in front of the Abington student section with 37 seconds left, instead drawing an offensive foul that banished him to the bench.
“Right away, I felt bad and felt like I’d disappointed my teammates,” Monroe said. “It probably wasn’t a great take but I felt like it would be a good emphasis on the ending. I knew my guys would lock it down.”
Brickus tried a three with about 23 seconds left on the clock, setting off the final sequence of pandemonium. Two Raiders putback tries right under the rim didn’t drop but as an Abington player grabbed the rebound falling out of bounds, he threw it right back to Coatesville.
Dixon blocked the following shot try, but the ball again fell to a Raiders player only for his shot to sail off the mark. Bryant, pulling a football move, tip-toed the baseline to save the ball but his hurried pass went to Abington’s Maurice Henry.
Henry crossed midcourt, pulled toward the Ghosts bench then found Waller just as the buzzer went off and Abington swarmed under its basket, somehow back-to-back-to-back champions.
“I’m thinking ‘miss, miss, miss,’ I’m screaming ‘box out, get the rebound and get in there,’ our guys were resilient,” Grasty said. “We had Derek Sussman in there, about 5-foot-9, battling to rebound and that’s the definition of our team.
“We’re just going to battle and if we come out on top, we’re happy. When Lucas fouled out, nobody hung their heads, we battled and when the ball came out of there, it was a relief.”
Abington will face Cumberland Valley, the District 3 sixth seed in the opening round of states next Saturday at a time and place to be determined.
“We still have more business to take care of, we want to go far in states and win a state championship but this meant a lot,” Monroe said. “We’re up there with maybe one or two other programs that have won three in a row and we’re proud of it.”
“I didn’t come this far only to come this far, I was here to get this win,” Dixon said. “I was going to do whatever it took, we have a week until states so I can do whatever I have to do by then but tonight, I was ready to do whatever I had to do.”
Abington 74, Coatesville 71 (OT)
Abington 25 11 16 11 11 – 74
Coatesville 12 21 20 10 8 – 71
Abington: Eric Dixon 14 10-13 38, Lucas Monroe 7 4-4 18, Manir Waller 4 0-0 8, Maurice Henry 2 0-0 5, Darious Brown 2 0-0 5. Totals: 29 14-17 74.
Coatesville: Dapree Bryant 10 7-9 28, Jhamir Brickus 10 1-2 23, John Proctor 1 0-0 3, Tione Holmes 4 1-1 9, Aaron Young 2 0-1 4, Dymere Miller 2 0-0 4. Totals: 29 9-14 71.
3-pointers: A – Henry, Young; C – Brickus 2, Bryant, Proctor.