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Kwaidah helps shoot Sun Valley out of a box

ASTON — The season flipping to a serious point, Sun Valley basketball coach Steve Maloney had an idea of what to expect from West Chester Rustin Tuesday night.

He also had a solution: Wait it out.

What the Vanguards braced for, and what they would see, was the latest in a recent series of gimmick defenses against Chris Kwaidah, the smooth-shooting junior guard. So it would be, a box-and-one, played well enough to keep the Golden Knights competitive in a critical Ches-Mont American game.

What Sun Valley eventually enjoyed as a reward for its patience was two second-half three-pointers and a 6-for-6, never-hit-the-rim fourth-quarter foul-line display from Kwaidah to seal a 66-57 victory likely to have an impact on the District 1 Class 5A power ratings.

“He’s a game-changer,” Maloney said. “This is two games in a row that teams went to a box on us. We were able to push the basketball and get him a look. It was a momentum swing when he hit a three from the corner, and his three out of an inbounds play, and his free throws.

“He’s the one we want at the line at the end of the game.”

The Knights, who had been ranked 10th to Sun Valley’s 13 on the recent list, dipped to 6-7, 4-2 in the American. The victory pushed the Vanguards to 7-6, 5-1 in the conference.

Behind Ian Schlesinger, who scored 11 of his 24 points in the first quarter, Rustin pounced to a quick, 13-6 lead before a settling Sun Valley timeout and a more aggressive ensuing defense.

The Vanguards, battling against the box-and-one, would lead by as many as a dozen in the second quarter, yet were working to hang on to a 52-50 lead midway through the fourth quarter.

With Rustin extending its defense, the Vanguards were able to spring guards Todd Harper and Noah Griffin free, with Harper’s drive providing a 60-52 advantage with 1:19 left. Kwaidah swished four free throws within the final 48 seconds, and Griffin completed his 10-point night with two more before Sun Valley could exhale.

“We have lost some tough ones,” Maloney said. “We lost to Chi in overtime. We gave up a lead to Avon Grove and lost by one. But we are 4-1 now in the league, so it is huge, with a big game against a really good Great Valley team on Thursday.”

Until it is of greater urgency, Maloney intends to focus his attention on the conference standings, while trusting his assistants to keep track of the District 1 picture.

“I know we dropped a little bit, losing a game to Upper Darby Saturday,” he said. “But we are a young group and they are learning to play meaningful basketball.”

The Vanguards are also learning to solve the kind of coaching stunts they likely will encounter in the postseason, and that Kwaidah half expects to see for the remainder of the regular season.

“We knew Upper Darby played that on us, so we went over it in practice and found ways to get a little better at it,” he said. “And it translated to this game. I was moving. Guys set great screens to get me open. And then it resulted in wide-open threes for me.”

Kwaidah scored all of his 12 points in the second half, supplementing the 18-point outburst from Bucky Grayston. Matt Nochumson scored 11 and Chase Hatton 10 to help keep the Knights involved.

“We battled,” said Rustin coach Vince Mostardi. “We just talked about it. It was a great atmosphere. For right now, our home games have a little fan-ban, and we don’t have a lot of fans. So it was nice to play in a high school atmosphere and move past that and get into a rhythm, to hear a crowd going back and forth. That’s the kind of atmosphere we really feed off of as a young team.

“So I think this game was good for us. And it’s going to be good for us going down the stretch and in the playoffs.”

With February looming, it’s time for that.

“This was a huge game,” Kwaidah said. “We knew that coming in. So we came out and played hard.”

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