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Tomlin adopts posture of go-to guy for Penncrest

Penncrest's Marquis Tomlin, left, scored a career-high 25 points Friday to lead the Lions past Chester Charter Scholars Academy. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

NETHER PROVIDENCE — Marquis Tomlin knows the role well.

It was only a year ago that Tomlin was the new guy, a guard who had only played sparingly for Penncrest, thrust into a primary role in the Lions’ backcourt rotation in a season-opener. By Friday night, the places had flipped 180 degrees: Tomlin as the senior leader, a new face under his wing, sophomore Saahir Lee.

“I was in the same position two years ago and I see myself through him,” Tomlin said. “It’s just great seeing him out there making plays and all that. It’s good that he’s getting comfortable.”

The chemistry between those two and fellow guard Aidan Carroll was instant, resulting in a 55-49 win over Chester Charter Scholars Academy at the Media Tip-Off hosted by Strath Haven.

Tomlin led the way with a career-high 25 points, his first career game of more than 20. Lee added 10 and Carroll had seven, but less tangible parts of their games helped the Lions subdue the Sabers.

The trio combined for six steals, eight of Penncrest’s nine assists and 11 boards. They shot 6-for-9 from 3-point range, tying the Lions’ 2018-19 season-high for made triples in a game and nearly doubling last year’s average of 3.2 per game.

When one drove, another was spotting up. When one jumped a passing lane, another was trailing to be a fast-break option. In an opener that featured plenty of imperfections, that trio worked more or less ideally.

“With the three guards, we have to find where each other are playing and where the positions are,” Carroll said. “I think we worked pretty well tonight, obviously there’s still work to be done, but I think we got the job done and did what we needed to do.”

Penncrest’s loss to graduation is one of the heaviest in the county, with their top three scorers from last year’s PIAA Class 5A second-round run gone. Tomlin and Carroll, both solid complementary players, must become much more if the Lions want to make it 12 straight years in the District 1 tournament.

Tomlin passed his first test. Despite the Lions missing nine of their first 10 shots, they turned it on with five straight makes across the first and second quarter to take control and stretched the lead to as many as 18 points early in the fourth quarter.

Tomlin adopted the off-ball approach, the combo guard hitting a pair of 3-pointers in the second quarter and one to start the third off a Carroll feed that gave Penncrest its first double-figure lead. Carroll hit a pair of long balls in the third quarter, including one to beat the buzzer off Lee’s feed.

“I found an open spot and Saahir found me,” Carroll said. “I knew time was running low, so I needed to let it fly.”

Carroll’s buzzer-beater made it 40-26 after three quarters, and it would turn out to be more pivotal than anticipated.

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What might have been a battle of bigs — between Penncrest’s 6-7 Denzel Atkinson-Boyer and CCSA’s 6-10 Tyler Howard — didn’t materialize. Howard was saddled with three fouls in the game’s first nine minutes, then a fourth early in the third. He was 1-for-6 from the field for two points and five rebounds, generally a non-factor. Atkinson-Boyer was more involved with eight points, nine boards and two blocks, but he only shot 3-for-8 from the field.

Instead, the guards took over. And it was reserve Davon Stovall who provided CCSA’s spark in the fourth. Stovall scored all of his team-high 12 points in the fourth, hitting his final five looks from the field. CCSA shot 10-for-13 from the floor in the fourth, clawing back to as close as five points on two occasions.

Foul trouble was a theme for the Sabers. Bruce Rogers (five points) and Damir Baez (seven points) fouled out, with 23 fouls whistled on CCSA to 13 on Penncrest. The Lions attempted 33 free throws to CCSA’s seven, of which they made only one.

It fell to Tomlin to ice the game in the fourth. He obliged, going 12-for-15 from the stripe overall and 10-for-12 in the fourth.

That’s the other ingredient in Penncrest’s evolution. Where last year, the Lions had All-Delco Malcolm Williams to turn to in crunch time, this year the job is open. Tomlin made a pretty strong opening argument for those clutch touches.

“I knew eventually they were going to go on a run and make some shots,” Tomlin said. “So I knew I had to go to the line and make some shots and get out.”

Also in the Media Tip-Off:

Chichester 78, Coventry Christian 17 >> Josh Hankins scored 29 points in little more than two quarters as the Eagles rolled to victory. Paris Blackwell added 15 points, and Jasir Shaw and Ciyir Hancock dished four assists each.

Strath Haven 51, Church Farm 39 >> Luke Edwards went off for a career-high 29 points as the Panthers led by 10 after one quarter and never looked back.

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