For Marple Newtown, it’s all about the pass

RIDLEY – Ryan Straub apologizes for the cliché, though that doesn’t diminish its truth.

A season ago, Marple Newtown lived and died by its 3-point shooting, all the way to a first-round districts exit. This season, the 3 still looms large. But it’s more about how the ball gets there.

“We preach passing up a good shot for a great shot,” Straub said. “It’s kind of a clichéd saying, but we really preach that and we trust it and rely on our teammates.”

Twice in less than 24 hours, its paid off, the latest a 52-38 win over Ridley Saturday, led by 15 points from Straub and exemplary ball movement all around.

That victory followed a 73-62 win over Lower Merion Friday, the Tigers’ first over the Aces in 11 years. Any concerns of a letdown went out the window in about three minutes, with Straub and Owen Mathes splashing home open 3-pointers. The Tigers (6-5, 6-5 Central) led by nine points after one quarter and by 15 at the half.

Whereas last year the Tigers had moments but lacked consistency with a youthful club dependent on lights-out shooting, this year’s approach is more balanced. In 2019-20, Marple Newtown hit the fourth-most 3-pointers in Delco at 169. It was second in made 3-pointers per game at 7.35.

The nine makes (on 19 attempts) against Ridley is a season-high. But the ball movement and willingness to move off-ball opens those chances. More important to coach Sean Spratt was the 15 assists on 18 baskets, a day after assisting on 14 of 21 makes against LM.

That unselfishness is pivotal, with a core of players who gained experience as juniors and sophomores not just improving as individuals but blossoming in their team understanding.

“I think we grew as a team a lot,” guard Mike Tansey said. “The chemistry is great. We’re playing for each other, not for individuals. And I think that’s why we’re getting some wins.”

Straub led the way with 15 points. Tansey scored 11 (to go with three assists), as did Mathes. Eric McKee, like Straub a lanky wing with excellent passing vision, whipped four assists to go with six points and six boards. Six of Marple’s eight regulars scored. As impressive was that six of those eight had assists, a testament to making the extra pass to find the open man.

That the post player, Mathes, had room to operate exemplifies the shift of the last year. The Tigers aren’t overly reliant on outside shots, but use the threat of the 3-pointer to open space. That maturation hinges on the willingness to work away from the ball and trust teammates to make unselfish decisions.

“That’s a big thing for our offense,” Tansey said. “We’re not the type of team that’s going to come in and play one-on-one basketball. We play for each other and I think that’s what works for us best.”

Straub had nine points in the first half. He added a pair of triples in the third to stretch the lead as large as 19.

Ridley (1-7, 1-7) trailed 8-2 out of the gates and never threatened. Josh Hagan scored six of his team-high eight points in the third. Austin McCaughan hit a pair of first-half 3s; he and Tahir Mills scored seven points each. But the Green Raiders were hampered by 14 turnovers.

That wouldn’t be enough to stop a Marple Newtown team that’s flying high.

“It just feels really good,” Straub said. “It feels like coach is letting us loose to do whatever we want and play freely, and it’s really showing with our shooting percentage these last few games. It’s been really fun.”

In the Inter-Ac League:

Haverford School 82, Springside Chestnut Hill 53 >> Christian Clover celebrated senior day by hitting seven 3-pointers and tallying 30 points for the Fords. Jameel Brown chipped in 17 points.

Germantown Academy 72, Episcopal Academy 47 >> Sam Malloy hit four 3-pointers for 17 points and Will Delaney added 12, but the Churchmen couldn’t keep up with the Patriots.

In nonleague action:

Chester 72, Bartram 34 >> Karell Watkins scored 30 points and grabbed 20 rebounds, and Jameel Burton added 11 as the Clippers (6-1) sailed to victory.

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