Whitpain – A few minutes after Westtown’s 72-59 win against Malvern Prep in the PAISAA boys basketball championship final in front of a standing-room-only crowd Saturday evening at Montgomery County Community College, Moose senior Noah Collier was asked for his most vivid memory of the just-completed contest.
Collier, who scored 12 second-half points, paused a moment, then smiled and replied, “Probably the buzzer beater [I made] just before the end of the third quarter. I heard the coaches telling me to rebound the ball [from a missed Westtown shot] – we were missing Franck [Kepnang] today, and that’s a big impact, he gets 15 rebounds a game. I was trying to rebound everything tonight.”
Kepnang, a 6-foot-11 junior, was injured (high ankle sprain) in the PAISAA semifinal Friday evening, and Westtown head coach Seth Berger was pleased at how the Moose stepped up its rebounding Saturday night.
Berger said, “For Dereck Lively to perform like he did tonight in his first state final as a 16-year-old sophomore, to dominate the boards, along with Noah Collier – they got every [possible] rebound – was great. And Jalen Warley rebounded [well] tonight. I told the team before the game that Franck gets about 15 rebounds a game, and that everybody needs to make up for those rebounds and they did.”
The Westtown coach also was pleased with the Moose defense, which held Malvern to a total of 21 points in the second and third quarters combined.
“Malvern is a great shooting team, but we have so much length that what is an open shot against another team is, quite frankly, a contested three against us,” said Berger.
Malvern converted seven treys Saturday evening, and the Moose tallied six.
“Our defense was the key tonight – defense and rebounding,” said Collier. “Everybody stepped up defensively tonight. We knew we’d be able to score, but the defense was what helped us the most tonight.”
Berger, who coached the Moose to a PAISAA state title three years ago, said, “This team is incredibly together. We thought at the beginning of the year that our togetherness would give us an opportunity to have a great season and win a state title. We’re always talented, but this team really likes each other and likes playing together. I can’t tell you how much pressure there is on these kids once fall rolls around, because everyone asks them the same question, ‘Are you going to win a state title?’ To have them come through the way they did this season was incredible.”
The Moose hit a bump in the road early, falling behind 11-2 three minutes into the contest, and Seth Berger called time out.
“I told them to play harder, and to keep it simple on offense – that we have the most talented team, so as long as we match effort and keep a simple offense, then our destiny’s in our hands,” said Berger. “I thought our kids’ talents shone through despite incredible effort by the Malvern team. Without question, Coach [John] Harmatuk has to be Southeast Pennsylvania coach of the Year, and [Malvern’s all-time leading scorer] Deuce Turner is one of the most unbelievable high school players I’ve ever seen.”
Westtown quickly rallied, grabbing a 17-13 lead and ending the first quarter tied at 20-20. A Lively dunk, followed by a Malvern miss from the outside and a Quin Berger trey gave Westtown a 30-26 lead in the second quarter. The Moose led the rest of the way, and after leading 38-31 at halftime, built its lead to 54-41 by the end of the third period.
“At halftime, there was a lot of meaningful things said in our locker room – basically, that we’ve been a [strong] team this while season, fighting for each other,” said Warley, who finished with a team-high 19 points. “We stuck together and I think that’s one of the reasons we won.”
Collier’s buzzer-beating field goal gave the Moose a 54-41 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Malvern kept battling, and after the Friars’ Spencer Cochran nailed a trey to cut the Westtown lead to 60-50 with 3:35 left, TJ Berger came right back with a trey from the right side 10 seconds later to make it 63-50.
Sixteen seconds later, a Malvern 3-point play cut Westtown’s lead to 63-53, then TJ Berger hit another trey nine seconds later to give the Moose a 66-53 lead with 3:01 left.
Seth Berger said, “Those two 3-point shots that TJ Berger made without question were the biggest ones of his career. He was not having his best game [tonight], and he had the courage to take and make those two threes in the corner, and that [practically] ended the game.”
The Westtown head coach repeated that the win was a team effort.
“Noah Collier fell on every single rebound when it mattered,” said Berger. “Jalen Warley is an incredible player. And Ny’mire Little transferred in from Carroll, and we don’t win the state title if he doesn’t transfer. He brings so many intangibles to a team – his effort, his defense, his toughness, his decision-making. He made some shots in the first half that were really big to get us going. And I think Quin Berger is as tough as nails. This was a team effort tonight.”
Malvern Prep, the No. 3 seed in the tournament, kept battling until the final buzzer. Turner, the school’s all-time leading scorer, finished with 22 points, and teammates Spencer Cochran and Lonnie White combined for 19 points.
“We’ve had an unbelievable season,” said Malvern Prep head coach John Harmatuk. “I’m so proud of my seniors, their hearts are unbelievable. I knew they wouldn’t quit. Westtown is a special team.
“We had great togetherness – we started off the season badly, and we battled back together. We had unbelievable senior leadership from Deuce Turner, Keith Carra, Spencer Cochran, all of our seniors. Once we started playing together, we were as good as anybody.”
Westtown 72, Malvern Prep 59
Malvern Prep 20 11 10 18 – 59
Westtown 20 18 16 18 – 72
Malvern Prep (59): McElwee 1 0-0 3, Cochran 3 0-0 8, Turner 8 5-5 22, White 4 1-3 11, Hicks 3 1-2 8, Carra 1 0-1 2, Oschell 2 1-2 5, Totals 22 8-13 59.
Westtown (72): Little 4 0-0 10, Collier 7 1-2 15, Warley 7 5-12 19, Q. Berger 1 2-2 5, TJ Berger 4 2-3 14, Lively 5 0-0 10, Totals 28 10-19 72.
3-point field goals: Malvern Prep – McElwee, Cochran 2, Turner, White 2, Hicks. Westtown – Little 2, Q. Berger, TJ Berger 3
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