Upper Merion stays hot with 50-49 win over Pottstown

KING OF PRUSSIA >> Upper Merion found itself in an 0-2 hole to start its season after a three-point loss to Pottstown on Jan. 22.

Three weeks later as the two Pioneer Athletic Conference Frontier Division rivals met once again, the Vikings have dug themselves out.

A 50-49 home win over the Trojans on Friday night gave Upper Merion its fifth win in six games since the early season loss to Pottstown.

Vikings’ junior Collin Bowman had 16, going a perfect 6-for-6 from the foul line in the fourth quarter. Junior Kareem Abdussamad added 10 and junior Ty Jones eight.

Pottstown senior Jahzeel Watson (13), sophomore Terryce Phillips (12) and senior Darius Smallwood (11) reached double figures for the Trojans.

“We came into the season, our heads were a little big, we overlooked teams, but we’re back now,” Upper Merion senior Lukas Kim said. “That’s all I gotta say is we’re back now.”

PHOTO GALLERY: Pottstown-Upper Merion Boys Basketball 2.12.21

Upper Merion’s Lukas Kim, left, attempts to drive past Pottstown’s Joneil Oister. (Owen McCue – MediaNews Group)

Pottstown (3-6, 3-3 PAC Frontier) has had a reversal of misfortune since its Jan. 22 win over Upper Merion (5-3, 2-3 PAC Frontier), dropping four of its last five contests. The last two games — a 54-53 loss to Perkiomen Valley on Wednesday and Friday’s one-point loss — were both within their grasp.

The Trojans had control in the first half and then in the second during Friday night’s game, but two big runs by Upper Merion ultimately proved to be the difference in the game.

Pottstown led 16-4 early in the second quarter before a 15-0 run by Upper Merion gave the Vikings the lead.

The Trojans grabbed a 22-19 lead before halftime and built the advantage up to 29-21 with three and a half minutes left in the third quarter.

Upper Merion responded with an 18-2 run — which included scoring the first nine points of the fourth quarter — that put the Vikings up 40-31 with 5:16 left in the game.

“We kind of jumped on them early and let them back in the game there in the second quarter,” Pottstown coach Scott Palladino said. “We just made some mental errors tonight in two stretches of the game.”

Pottstown’s Darius Smallwood, left, attempts a layup as Upper Merion’s Collin Bowman jumps to defend. (Owen McCue – MediaNews Group)

In his four years in the program, Kim said the Vikings have consistently gotten out of the gates slow for whatever reason before righting the ship later on. The difference in 2021 is that the turnaround came quick.

Bowman said there was a lot of running in practice the day after the loss to the Trojans.

Coach Jason Quenzer saw the 0-2 start as a wake-up call for a team that entered the 2021 season with high expectations. He noticed a change in attitude during practice and a positive response to ‘harsh criticism.’

Their response to adversity was on display in Friday’s win during the two stretch runs. Both runs were sparked by Abdussamad and Kalil Lawson on the defensive end as the lengthy forwards got their hands in the passing lane and blocked shots to start the fastbreak.

“I feel like we’re more confident and we’re playing with more heart,” said Abdussamad, whose 10 points were a season-high. “Our defense is getting better, our offense is getting better, and we’re playing more as a team.”

Upper Merion’s Kalil Lawson, right, blocks a shot by Pottstown’s Darius Smallwood. (Owen McCue – MediaNews Group)

Abdussamad’s 10 points were a season-high. He came into Friday with just nine points in six games this season.

“I thought after those first free throws he missed his confidence would go down, but credit to him, he stayed with it,” Quenzer said. “He looked to get his. A big three, a couple good takes to the rim. He was aggressive.”

“They changed the game,” he added on Abdussamad and Lawson.

Though down nine halfway through the fourth quarter, Pottstown nearly pulled off a rally of its own in the final minutes.

Consecutive baskets by Smallwood cut the Upper Merion lead to one, 48-47, with 21.7 seconds left. The Trojans almost forced a tie up to get the ball back, but they were whistled for a foul that sent Bowman to the line with 14.7 seconds to play.

Bowman knocked down both free throws to put Upper Merion back up three. Pottstown tried to get a quick two, but the first shot attempt didn’t go down and Phillips’ putback as time expired came too late.

Phillips came off the bench to score eight of his points in the fourth quarter.

“Our kids are resilient. They’re going to fight through everything,” Palladino said. “We just gotta get better at finishing games and finishing quarters and doing the little things. We’ve had two one-point losses and both losses have been costly for us in the standings and everything like that but it’s just one or two plays we gotta get better at.”

Upper Merion’s Madison Tatom, center, shoots over Pottstown’s Joneil Oister, right, during Friday’s game at Upper Merion. (Owen McCue – MediaNews Group)

Upper Merion’s recent upswing — which has included three wins against the 6A schools from the Liberty Division — has the Vikings up to No. 4 in the District 1 Class 5A power rankings.

Kim has never won a district playoff game, dropping first round games as No. 15 and No. 9 seeds the past two seasons.

The Vikings have a chance to set themselves up for postseason success if they continue getting revenge their second time through the Frontier.

“Hopefully we can get a good seed in districts,” Kim said. “We’re already on the way. We just gotta keep winning, playing together.”

The Trojans’ current slump has Pottstown at No. 13 — three spots out of the reduced 10-team District 1-5A tournament field this season.

Phillips, Nyles Bunn-McNeil (who had all six of his points to jumpstart Pottstown in the first period), and Joneil Oister are three of four sophomores in the Trojans’ rotation getting more accustomed to the varsity level every game.

But with six PAC games left, seniors Watson, Smallwood and Corey Cottman are on the clock as they try to get Pottstown back to the district postseason after an absence last year.

“The future’s bright, but we’re not worried about the future,” Palladino said. “We’re right in the thick of things, but we’re kind of just shooting ourselves in the foot these past couple games. … Those games could come back to haunt us later on, unfortunately, but we’re right back at it on Monday. We have a three-game week next week. It can (turnaround quick) and we have no time to sit here and dwell on this loss. It’s on to the next day and keep it moving.”

NOTES >> Lawson threw down a transition dunk in the first half, and senior forward Frank Hermna jammed the ball twice late in the fourth quarter.

Upper Merion 50

Pottstown 49

POTTSTOWN: Bostic 0 0-0 0, Bunn-McNeil 3 0-0 6, Oister 0 2-2 2, Smallwood 5 1-1 11, Watson 4 5-8 13, Cottman 2 0-0 5, Phillips 5 2-3 12, Totals 19 10-14 49.

UPPER MERION: Jones 4 0-0 8, Kim 0 0-1 0, Tatom 1 3-4 5, Bowman 4 8-8 16, Lawson 3 0-0 6, Herman 2 1-2 5, Abdussamad 4 1-2 10, Totals 18 13-17 50.

Pottstown 11 11 9 18-49
Upper Merion 4 15 12 19-50

3-point goals: Cottman, Abdussamad.

Pottstown’s Darius Smallwood (3) and Jahzeel Watson (4) and Upper Merion’s Madison Tatom (11) and Kareem Abdussamad (54) scramble for a loose ball. (Owen McCue – MediaNews Group)


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