Cheltenham got to within two points of Lower Merion with about two minutes to play Friday night, but the Aces were clutch from the foul line and tough defensively, holding on to defeat the Panthers 59-50 in the quarterfinal round of the District 1-6A Playoffs.
The win sends ninth-seeded Lower Merion to Tuesday’s semifinals, at No. 4 Garnet Valley, a 63-38 winner over No. 5 Perkiomen Valley.
One team advances to states out of District 1-6A.
Top-seeded Cheltenham finished a fine season at 14-2.
“I’m really proud of this team,” Panthers coach Patrick Fleury said. “We had a lead early but just have to learn that in the playoffs, every possession matters. Overall, this will be a good experience for the guys moving forward.”
The Panthers blew out to a 19-10 advantage early on their home court, but Lower Merion chipped away by halftime, cutting the deficit to 30-26, and then stormed ahead for good in the third.
The Panther footsteps got louder midway through the fourth, as Cheltenham clawed to within 50-48 on a jumper by Ife West-Ingram, but Lower Merion put the game away at the foul line.
In fact, the Aces (9-4) made eight free throws in a row during a key stretch of the fourth, and 11 of 12 in the final four minutes of the quarter.
Sam Brown, Demetrius Lilley and Zack Wong all contributed mightily for the Aces in the victory.
A free throw by Cheltenham’s Justin Savage brought the Panthers within 54-49 with a minute to play, and a foul shot by Saleem Payne cut the Cheltenham deficit to 56-50 moments later, but Lower Merion was too tough at the foul line.
Still, Cheltenham returns the bulk of its roster next year.
“This was an amazing team in 2021,” Fleury said. “They were the most selfless group.
“We have an aggressive style and I believe we will maintain that moving forward. We have a lot of juniors that will learn from this experience and be ready to push back next year.”
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