POTTSTOWN >> Pottstown boys basketball coach Ken Ivory had to take a moment to gather himself in the locker room following a 32-minute emotional rollercoaster.
“I need to sit down. I’m gonna pass out, holy crap,” Ivory said, wiping the sweat from his forehead with his blue sleeveless shirt after much screaming, dancing and nearly crying tears of joy. “I’m sorry, I’m ready. My heart, dude.”
Pottstown has missed the Pioneer Athletic Conference tournament for a decade, dating back to the 2011-12 season.
And after starting down 17-0 to Frontier rival Phoenixville on Tuesday, it looked like another year removed from the PAC playoffs was inevitable.
But the Trojans stormed back after halftime — when they trailed 32-17 — and pulled away in the final two minutes of the game, 59-55 in a divisional barn-burner to all but put their stamp on a wildcard spot at Strom Gym.
“We just had to get downhill. We weren’t getting downhill, we let their choking pressure slow us down and that’s not our game at all,” Ivory said. “We had a bunch of mental errors early.”
Abdul Jackson poured on 11 of his game-high 23 points in the third quarter. The junior guard made multiple layups, drawing the foul each time and often banking the and-one, going 3-for-4 at the line in the frame. Ty Elliot-Moore had 13 points and Terryece Phillips added 10.
Pottstown improved to 6-3 in the Frontier and 7-5 in the PAC (13-7 overall). The Trojans have only last-place Upper Perk remaining on their league slate. PJP leads the Frontier at 7-2 and while co-second place Upper Merion (6-3) has the head-to-head advantage over the Trojans, an 8-5 PAC mark would earn Pottstown a wild card spot.
The Trojans didn’t take the lead until 2:03 left in the game when Jurrell Young hit a corner three to go up 55-53. Pottstown remained ahead the rest of the way.
“We’re a better second-half team than the first half no doubt,” Jackson said. “We score more points, we play better defense and we rebound. Honestly, I think it was just the energy in the locker room about how we can be better and how we know we’re better.”
Q4, 2:03 — POTTSTOWN HAS ITS FIRST LEAD!
After being down 17-0 to start, Jurrell Young hits a corner three to put the Trojans up 55-53. pic.twitter.com/Egu8Xiyhg6
— Evan Wheaton (@EvanWheaton) February 1, 2023
For much of the game, the Phantoms certainly looked like the better team. Phoenixville dominated in transition, crashed the boards and had stellar shot selection throughout the first half.
Deacon Baratta helped pad the Phantoms’ lead with 10 of his 19 points before the break. Junior forward Max Lebisky added 13 points for Phoenixville as the young squad unloaded early.
“We certainly had a good couple individual performances,” Phantoms coach Eric Burnett said. “A lot of plays I’d like to have back on the defensive end, but that’s been the tale of our season. We show a lot of youth in situations and it’s one of those steps we need to take in maturity and leadership on the court.”
Pottstown was outscored 19-3 in the first quarter. Phoenixville did just about everything right on both ends of the floor, stifling a Trojans offense that leads in the PAC in scoring at 63.3 ppg.
And even when the beast woke up, Phoenixville’s offense matched it. Lebisky traded buckets with Jackson and cut the game to one point, 56-55 with just over a minute to go.
But with the holes in the bottom of the boat patched up and fresh wind in its sails, Pottstown rode newfound momentum to close out a wild, crazy night.
“Coming out of halftime, we were getting and-ones and and-ones. It sparked us,” Jackson said. “It got us ready, it got us hyped.”
Q3, 3:20 — Abdul Jackson? Good at basketball.
He’s up to 17 and pulls Pottstown with five points after trailing by as much as 17.
All of a sudden, it’s a game folks. pic.twitter.com/orxrHnAtg3
— Evan Wheaton (@EvanWheaton) February 1, 2023
Ranked No. 15 in District 1 Class 5A, Phoenixville is outside the top 12 who make the district bracket. The Phantoms have one last game against Pottsgrove on Thursday.
“These are the games you can’t win unless you learn how to win and play in them,” Burnett said. “We’ve shown a lot of grit and a lot of fight throughout the year starting the way we did 2-6, 2-7 out of the gate with all these first-timers and really stringing it together for a shot at the playoffs down the stretch.”
After finishing 6-16 overall last winter, Pottstown is ranked No. 7 in the District 1-5A field and closes out its regular season against Upper Perkiomen on Thursday.
After the game, Ivory took in another much-needed breath, processing what transpired on the hardwood.
“Worst start ever.”
Pottstown 59, Phoenixville 55