WARMINSTER >> Chaz Middleton threw down a two-handed dunk, landed and let out a yell while flexing under the basket.
It was an exclamation, both for his Norristown boys basketball team’s rally and for his own personal effort in the second half Saturday afternoon. The young Eagles had been pushed by Scranton Prep, fell behind in the third quarter but managed to rally back.
For Middleton and Norristown, it was a good win and one built on what the Town prides itself on as the Eagles edged the Cavaliers 67-57 in the opening game of Archbishop Wood’s Diane Mosco Foundation Shootout.
“At Norristown, we don’t teach effort, you just do it” Middleton said. “My teammates did great. We’re just trying to build and get better. Al l my teammates are amazing and we really pulled it out together.”
An 11:30 a.m. start time may have been a factor, but it was slow going out of the gate with both teams committing a number of early turnovers. After falling behind 15-12, Norristown closed the opening quarter on a roll with seven straight points capped by Willie Anderson’s fadeaway jumper at the buzzer.
Middleton was Norristown’s second half spark, but it was Chris Dinolfi providing the bench energy in the first half. The guard hit a three to start the quarter-closing run and another to open the second quarter and extend the Norristown streak to 10-0.
It was really all defense though, as Norristown (2-1, 1-1 PAC Liberty) forced 12 first half turnovers and built a 35-27 halftime lead.
“That’s our staple,” Norristown coach Dana “Binky” Johnson said. “We’re never going to be the tallest team on the court so our staple at Norristown is defense. We have a saying that defense travels. There will be a night where we can’t throw a beach ball in the ocean, but every night, you can defend.”
Scranton Prep, annually one of the top teams in District 2 and the PIAA 4A level, started to impose itself in the third quarter. The Cavaliers used a 9-0 run to jumpstart their comeback and extended it into a 16-2 spree over a six-plus minute stretch to take a 43-38 lead.
Norristown’s defense is a calling card but the Eagles’ aggression also hurt them at times on Saturday. They put Scranton Prep into the bonus before the first quarter ended and in the second half, their fouls allowed the Cavaliers to push their run at the free throw line.
While Norristown doesn’t have a ton of experience back from last year, it does have a pair of proven scorers in Nazir Kinney and Willie Anderson.
“Sometimes, you just need players to make plays and they did that in that stretch,” Johnson said. “Those are plays we expect from our two captains.”
Kinney drove to the rim for a score, got fouled and hit the free throw to end the Scranton Prep run. Anderson followed with a hoop and harm and despite missing the free throw, had provided the Eagles some stability and a 43-43 tie.
Middleton scored the next four points, getting on the board after a strong start to the half as a rebounder.
“We work every day and work hard, so that’s where it pays off,” Middleton said. “We’re a young team but we work, we work and we work. In the end, we’re just working to get better, by January we want to be better than December and by February we want to be better than January.”
Michael Skroff hit a buzzer-beating three for Scranton Prep but the Cavaliers still trailed 47-46 going to the final frame. Kinney got another and-one off a miss by Anderson, then Anderson found DJ Johnson for a flip shot in the lane as part of a 6-0 run to start the fourth.
Dinolfi didn’t score in the second half but he was a total menace, picking up three steals. His third came along the baseline with the guard then flinging a long outlet pass to Middleton who finished with the dunk for a 59-52 lead.
“It’s funny because when we talk to this young group, we keep talking to them about the game of runs that basketball is,” Johnson said. “They don’t fully understand it but I told them after our first loss, Spring-Ford made a heck of a run. You’re going to be in games where the other team makes a run and you have to be able to counter it and that was very mature of this group to withstand that run.”
Middleton, for his part, smiled when asked about the dunk but deflected credit again to his teammates for setting him up and playing as a group. The forward added an assist on Marshall Baker’s 3-pointer and took a charge late as Norristown closed on a 10-5 run started by the slam.
Norristown’s defense was a whirling dervish in the fourth quarter. Players were hitting the floor without second thought as the Eagles forced nine turnovers in the frame.
“I’m so excited to coach this group,” Johnson said. “I had a lot of them in youth travel basketball so to see them make the maturation to now at the high school level, it’s just so exciting for me. Not only are they talented basketball players, but they’re such mature young men off the court and I’m so proud of them.”
NORRISTOWN 67, SCRANTON PREP 57
NORRISTOWN 19 16 12 20 – 67
SCRANTON PREP 15 12 19 11 – 57
Norristown: John Paulino 1 2-9 4, DJ Johnson 1 0-2 2, Willie Anderson 6 3-4 15, Nazir Kinney 6 2-3 17, John Dinolfi 0 1-2 1, Sam Etheredge 2 0-2 4, Chris Dinolfi 4 1-2 12, Marshall Baker 1 0-0 3, Chaz Middleton 2 5-7 9. Totals: 23 14-31 67.
Scranton Prep: Ryan McAndrew 1 1-2 3, Michael Skoff 6 3-4 17, Andrew Stark 0 2-2 2, Rhys Merritt 3 4-6 10, Robert Rossi 3 3-5 9, Gavin Bednarz 3 5-8 11, Andrew Ferguson 0 2-2 2, Matt Dwyer 0 0-2 0. Totals: 16 20-31 57.
3-pointers: N – Kinney 3, C Dinolfi 3, Baker; SP – Skoff 2.
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