READING — Basketball can get complicated, though at times it stays refreshingly simple.
Sometimes, mundane as it sounds, it’s all about making shots.
Parkland did that Wednesday night at the Geigle Complex, Garnet Valley didn’t do enough of it and thus the District 11 champion is moving on in the PIAA Class 6A tournament via a 74-58 victory.
It’s not a slight on Garnet Valley, the seventh seed from District 1. The Jags (18-10) shot a modest amount of 3-pointers and hit exactly half of them, 7-for-14. They had 13 assists on 21 baskets. They committed 14 turnovers, too much for any coach but hardly debilitating in a fast-paced game.
But they just didn’t hit enough shots to keep up with Parkland. A 39.6 percent shooting night (21-for-53) didn’t keep up with the torrid 56.5 percent that Parkland put up (26-for-46).
The difference was too many contested looks in the lane that wouldn’t fall, the kind you’d prefer to attempt instead of chucking 3-pointers, while Parkland’s guards had the magic touch around the rim.
That duo would be Nick Coval and Matt Ray, who adapted as the game changed. Parkland was deadly from 3-point range in the first half, shooting 6-for-12 (including a heave at the first-quarter horn). Most importantly, none of the shots were forced, all arriving organically as they ran their half-court offense, most of the higher percentage catch-and-shoot variety.
“I think everyone is very good at team basketball,” Ray said. “We want to win more than any individualized stat. So we give up a little bit, we sacrifice and if it’s not an open shot, we’re not going to force anything. We want to take the right shots.”
But after the break, with Garnet Valley more consistently throwing a box-and-1 on Coval, the Trojans did force a handful of triples. So they adapted, Ray exploited the crevices of the defense off the bounce and Coval worked harder off the ball to get open for feeds.
Coval scored a game-high 23, including three 3-pointers, plus five rebounds and three assists. Ray was magnificent with 20 points on 5-for-6 from the field and 9-for-11 from the line, plus team-highs in rebounds (six) and assists (five).
All five of those assists came in the first half, as he got more aggressive off the dribble in the third. He scored four points in the frame, magnified by both offenses stagnating.
“I think when you make shots, it opens up the defense,” Ray said. “We were kind of feeling things out. They were playing a box-and-1 on a Nick, and I felt I could get to the rim and I could create. I had a lot of assists to set other guys up, and kudos to them, they made the shots.”
Garnet Valley’s plan B wasn’t as efficient. The Jaguars scored the game’s first seven points and had five assists on their first seven baskets. It was a clinic of ball movement, of screens and slips and cuts. They led by nine, 25-16, early in the second quarter, before an 8-0 Parkland run. The Trojans also scored the final seven points of the first half, punctuated by a Coval put-back basket at the buzzer.
The passing touch of the first quarter, though, never quite returned for the Jags, in part thanks to Parkland’s defense compacting on passing lanes around the paint.
“I feel like when we’re actually moving the ball and doing one-dribble bounce passes, we’re unstoppable,” Logan McKee said. “When we get out of it, when we start shooting every possession, that’s when we kind of fall apart. And I feel like getting back into that is kind of hard.”
Ryan Faccenda scored seven points in the first quarter but just one the rest of the way. He, Jack Krautzel and Max Koehler had eight points each but shot a combined 9-for-24. McKee provided a second-half spark on the way to 11 points and nine rebounds.
Jake Sniras, who led GV with 21 points, scored four early in the third as part of a 6-2 spurt to get within 38-37. But they went cold for seven straight trips up the court, allowing Parkland to pad out the advantage to 46-37.
Garnet Valley got close again in the fourth. McKee had a big 3-pointer, Koehler had two baskets and a Sniras in-your-face 3-pointer with 2:34 left got them to within 59-56. But four empty possessions followed, and Parkland, after a brief bobble, didn’t miss enough free throws (15-for-19 for the game) to crack the window of opportunity.
It spells the end of the road for a group that has won states games in consecutive seasons. The program has advanced in the last decade, from rarely qualifying for districts to being a fixture in states to expecting to win PIAA games.
That’s not a fact one tough shooting night will erase.
“We’ve built chemistry as a team and I think we are very successful as a program with this one specific team,” McKee said. “I feel like it’s just a standard to make it to states and win games.”
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