MALVERN >> It may not be as glamorous, but playing lockdown defense can overcome a multitude of sins on the basketball court.
On Friday in a critical Inter-Ac hoops clash, Malvern Prep played quite well with a major exception: some horrendous shooting from the perimeter. One-for-18 for the night.
But the Friars clamped down at the other end and walked away with a hard-fought 54-48 victory which knocked Springside Chestnut Hill Academy out of first place.
“If you can hang your hat on the defensive end, you will be in any game,” said Malvern Prep head coach Paul Romanczuk. “Our shots weren’t falling, and (Chestnut Hill) is a very talented team that can score in a variety of ways.
“I thought our defense was excellent tonight. I’m proud of our guys for that.”
The win propels the Friars (11-6 overall) into a three-way tie for the league lead at 3-1 along with Chestnut Hill and Penn Charter. The Blue Devils fall to 11-4.
“Coming off our loss earlier this week to Penn Charter was tough, but we knew that this game was to get into first place and we had to do whatever we could to make it happen,” said senior forward Andrew Phillips.
“We didn’t have a great offensive day but we focus more on defense. We knew we had to get this win, and it’s not over yet. Now we have to keep going.”
Phillips poured in a game-high 22 points to lead the way. And afterwards, Chestnut Hill head coach Julian McFadden said: “We couldn’t stop number 20 (Phillips).”
The 6-foot-4 native of Chester Springs was huge in getting the Friars to the finish line, but he had a lot of help. Sophomore guard Ryan Williams chipped in 16 points and hit a slew of free throws down the stretch. And backup guard Chase Reardon delivered a twisting, driving bucket and a free throw to put Malvern in front 46-38 with just over four minutes on the clock.
“That was a momentum builder,” Romanczuk said. “I thought Chase gave us great minutes off the bench on the second half.”
The Devils were able to pull within 48-46 with 58.5 to go, but Williams went 4-for-4 from the line, and also forced a turnover that led to a breakaway layup for senior point guard Joey Vandergeest that sewed up the win in the final seconds.
“We showed some resilience and some grit,” Romanczuk said.
“We were 0-for-16 (on 3-pointers) in the second half. And we are a pretty good shooting team. Maybe it was nerves, but part of it was the way (Chestnut Hill) plays – they are quick and athletic.”
With what appeared to be a comfortable 10-point lead midway through the third quarter, the momentum shifted when a steal and a fast-break bucket by Phillips was disallowed due to an offensive interference call. Romanczuk vehemently argued the call, but to no avail, and then Chestnut Hill went on to score the next 10 to knot it at 34-all through three quarters.
The Friars got off to a very promising start that featured an 11-0 first quarter run and a 17-7 lead heading into the second period.
The Devils promptly surged back with 11 straight points of their own to tie it, but Malvern finished strong to take a 27-20 edge into the break. Vandergeest spurred the finish with a jumper and a pair of feeds to teammate Andrew Phillips.
Phillips was also a force on the boards, and scored 14 points in the first half alone.
“He’s a very versatile offensive basketball player,” Romanczuk said. “He got to spots and was able to find a variety of different ways to score. That’s a testament to who he is, and the type of player he is.”
Sophomore Cam Burns paced the Devils with 21 points.
Malvern Prep 54, Chestnut Hill Academy 48
Chestnut Hill Academy 7 13 14 14 — 48
Malvern Prep 17 10 7 20 — 54
CHESTNUT HILL – Brown 2 0-0 5; Isaac 2 5-8 10; Thorpe 1 3-4 6; Morton 2 0-0 5; Burns 8 2-2 21; Karp 0 1-2 1. Totals 15 11-16 48.
MALVERN PREP – Reardon 2 1-1 6; Williams 4 8-8 16; Vandergeest 2 2-4 6; Lauder 1 2-2 4; Pegg 0 0-2 0; Phillips 9 4-6 22; Oschell 0 0-2 0. Totals 18 17-25 54.
Three pointers: Brown, Isaac, Thorpe, Burns 3, Reardon.
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