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Boys Basketball: DiBona helps Marple Newtown snap slide

Justin DiBona, right, seen in a game last season, scored 17 points in a win over Upper Darby Thursday night. (Pete Bannan/MediaNews Group)

NEWTOWN SQUARE – In so many words, Justin DiBona and his Marple Newtown teammates understood the trends at play Thursday night.

The Tigers had won six of eight to start the season, then lost three straight, all with the 5A school tangling with the Central League’s 6A powers. To start the second half of a 22-game season the same way as the first, DiBona knew the Tigers would need to buck the losing trend against Upper Darby.

With DiBona leading the way, they were ready.

The senior guard supplied 11 of his 17 points in the first half, staking the Tigers to an early lead on the way to a 62-52 win.

For Marple (7-5, 4-4 Central), the win ends a three-game skid. For Upper Darby (3-7, 3-5) a three-game winning streak halts. Such is the Central League crossover conundrum.

“We knew this is the halfway moment of the season and we knew that we were 6-5 going into it,” DiBona said. “This was a big game to come into and play as hard as we did. … We knew this was a big test, and we were ready for it.”

The final margin for the Tigers was banked in that first quarter. Marple led 17-9 after eight minutes, then the two teams were even the rest of the way, including identical tallies in the second and fourth quarters.

DiBona hit all three of his 3-point attempts in the first half and was 5-for-7 from the field overall. He added six points in the fourth quarter, including 4-for-4 from the line. Jordan Bochanski had eight points and five boards in the first eight minutes. He had 14 at the break, on the way to a 16-point night.

Making Marple’s 35-27 halftime lead all the more impressive is that it came with just a solitary point and two shot attempts from leading scorer Eric McKee, who endured early foul trouble.

“We know other guys on our team can step up at any point,” forward Johnny Small said. “Everyone on the floor can step up and score at any point that they want to. It’s not a one-man game. All five of us play together as a unit and can dominate together as long as we keep playing like that.”

The aptly named Small took center stage in the third quarter, when he had six points. He was 7-for-8 at the line for 11 points plus seven rebounds overall. He and Matt Cantwell (10 points, five rebounds) aren’t the biggest forwards, and they faced a noted height disadvantage against the Royals. But they ground out a 33-20 advantage on the boards.

“We’re expected to be the smaller team, usually every game we go into,” Small said. “At practice, we fight. Every practice, we’re battling, getting rebounds over each other, boxing each other out. It’s a whole mentality thing. Whoever has more motivation will get the ball.”

Upper Darby had its moments, just not enough. That’s to be expected for an underclassmen-heavy roster with one varsity contributor back from last year. The Royals’ co-leading scorer Thursday, Niymire Brown, only recently moved into the district and is still getting used to his teammates.

Upper Darby’s response Thursday was provided by Nadir Myers, who hit four first-half 3-pointers. He would finish with 17 points, plus a team-high three assists and three steals.

“We were playing as a team and moving the ball and I got open shots,” Myers said. “We spread the floor out and we were executing right and we were getting shots. My teammates found me, and I was hitting shots.”

Brown, the 6-4 junior who can play out of the post or off the dribble, also scored 17 points. But he needed 20 shot attempts. The Royals turned the ball over just four times. But instead of sticking with their half-court sets in the second half, it too often descended into one-man iso ball.

Alex Ings, Khysir Slaughter and Jameir Burnett scored six points each. UD was 7-for-24 from 3-point range.

Where Upper Darby deviated from its plan, Marple stayed steadfast. With DiBona and McKee orchestrating, and bigs who can pass, the system is predicated on always making the next feed. Hence shooting north of 50 percent from both the field (20-for-36) and 3-point range (7-for-12).

At the heart of that offensive plan is a certain faith: There’s no need to take the first marginal shot that presents itself since patience and diligence will lead to an even better opportunity as the offense goes through its sets.

“Our offense is just continuity,” DiBona said. “We know that 10 seconds later, you’re going to have the ball back in your hands if we go by that. Getting the ball back and forth is what we preach.”

That kind of faith is pretty useful for weathering a midseason slide, too.



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