ROYERSFORD >>Unselfish play and hot shooting staked Spring-Ford to a lead of 11 points at halftime of Tuesday night’s Pioneer Athletic Conference boys basketball championship game. Then Upper Merion picked up the pace and tried to claw back into the game after the break.
But try as they might, the Vikings could not really make a game of it, because the Rams simply would not allow them to. Spring-Ford continued to attack the basket and sink its shots and pulled away to a 74-55 win at Spring-Ford High School, earning its first PAC title since 2016 and sixth overall.
Sophomore Jacob Nguyen led the No. 1 seed Rams (23-2) with 25 points, E.J. Campbell followed with 17, Caleb Little added 12 and Zach Zollers pulled in a game-high 10 rebounds.
“These guys have gotten up for every game,” said SF coach Joe Dempsey. “We’ve had a couple hiccups but you don’t do what we’ve done thus far without special kids. They are dialed in every day and they come to play.”
Final: Spring-Ford 74, Upper Merion 55, PAC boys basketball championship 🏆
Rams are the champions in a dominant victory
Neat finish as everyone cheers on UM’s Cole Gemmill’s buzzer beater pic.twitter.com/F85M5ftC2L
— Austin Hertzog (@AustinHertzog) February 15, 2023
Zayd Etheridge led No. 2 seed Upper Merion (13-11) with 21 points.
The Rams were unwilling participants when Upper Merion made its big push in the third.
“We didn’t want them to get back into the game,” said Nguyen, who shot 6-for-7 from the field in the second half and 10-for-12 for the game, including five 3-point baskets. “We executed our offense. The coaches called good plays.”
“I just said we can’t play this game on our heels,” added Dempsey, whose team shot 59% (32-for-54) from the floor while shooting only five free throws. “We didn’t allow that to happen. By the end of the third quarter, we felt our depth.”
Nguyen knocked down a 3-pointer from the top of the circle to open the night’s scoring and, except for a 5-5 tie, the Rams led the rest of the contest. A six-point run made it 15-7 after a quarter on the way to a 36-25 advantage at the half.
The Vikings did manage to make some headway in the third quarter, with a 3-pointer by Elijah Davis (9 points) cutting the deficit to 47-39 with 2:27 remaining. But Nguyen hit both ends of a 1-and-1 and then drilled a 3-pointer from the right wing to close the quarter and Little sank a turnaround jumper to start the fourth for a 54-39 lead.
A score off a drive by Campbell – who scored nine in the fourth quarter on 4-for-4 shooting – bumped the lead up to 59-42 with 6:10 to go.
Q4, 7:14 — Caleb Little scores on Spring-Ford’s first possession of the fourth quarter.
He’s up to 10 now, Rams lead 54-39 over Upper Merion. pic.twitter.com/NvdoBtJC79
— Evan Wheaton (@EvanWheaton) February 15, 2023
“Shooting and scoring,” said Viking coach Jason Quenzer. “They made a lot of shots. We knew it would be tough tonight. They played an outstanding game. They were patient. We had to take some chances at the end.”
The Rams made numerous layups throughout the night as they cut to the basket and teammates delivered pinpoint passes.
“Super, super unselfish,” said 6-2 senior guard Zollers. “We don’t care who scores. We just want to win.”
“We have five terrific seniors,” said Dempsey. ”Nobody cares who scores. Nobody cares who gets the credit. It all starts with those five seniors (Zollers, Little, Michael McKenna, Alex Lewis, Tyree Banks). Their record speaks for itself.”
And when the Rams weren’t scoring inside, Nguyen was hitting shot after shot from outside.
“My jump shot felt good tonight,” said the 6-4 sophomore guard, who came into the game third in scoring in the PAC with 15.4 points per game. “I had a lot of confidence. Everyone contributed. We all shot the ball. We all like each other. We all trust each other. We trust our coaches.”
Q4, 3:58 — Jacob Nguyen is a walking highlight reel.
He hits a corner three and is up to 25.
Spring-Ford 66, Upper Merion 48 pic.twitter.com/vbTJ70kZlB
— Evan Wheaton (@EvanWheaton) February 15, 2023
The Rams were playing in the final for the first time in five years after a tough finish to last season.
“We were very disappointed we missed the playoffs last year,” said Dempsey. “The guys made up their mind last year it was not going to happen again. Every night it’s different guys. Some nights, its guys off the bench. Tonight, we were a sum of our parts.”
“I just do what I can do,” said Zollers, a football standout who made all four of his shots from the floor for eight points. “It’s great. It feels good to win my senior year.”
The Rams are ranked first in District 1-6A and will have a bye in the opening round of the playoffs and then open at home on Tuesday. Upper Merion is ranked No. 11 in Class 5A and will visit No. 6 Pottstown on Friday at 7 p.m.
The Vikings were making their first finals appearance since joining the league in 2017 after winning for the first time in a PAC Final Six playoff game in the semifinals.
“It’s definitely an accomplishment,” said Quenzer. “We’re proud. You don’t come to lose, but we’re happy to experience this. We’re not happy with the outcome. It was tough, but there’s more basketball. We’re back on Friday night. We just have to learn from tonight.”
Spring-Ford vs Upper Merion (PAC Championship)
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