Balanced Archbishop Wood leans on defense to break down CB East in PIAA 6A first round

PHILADELPHIA >> Archbishop Wood scored on its first shot of the game, then spent the next 96 seconds playing defense.

The Vikings’ first stand on defense ended with a forced turnover, nothing flashy, but the kind of effort that would be needed to disrupt a patient Central Bucks East offense. Wood’s defense held strong all game, the District 12 third place team adjusting to some early foul trouble then soaring high for some highlight blocks in the second half.

Four players hit double figures as Wood started its path back to Hershey with a 61-37 win over the Patriots, ending a strong year for CB East.

“The defense is what helped us get going,” guard Milan Dean said.

Dean would know, he was all over the floor guarding East and had one of the best defensive sequences of the game by blocking not one, but two East layups in the third quarter that led to a runout layup and-one for Jalil Bethea. The 6-foot-3 sophomore was one of the four scorers in double figures with 11 points but it was his activity on the defensive end that helped turn a grinding start into a much more uptempo game benefiting the Vikings strengths after halftime.

With East, which wrapped its season up after a school-record 24 wins and a third straight SOL Colonial Division title, putting five guys capable of handling the ball on the floor, the Wood coaches cautioned their would be some long possessions on the defensive end. Vikings senior forward Carson Howard, who led the team with 15 points, was also busy on defense by moving his feet and guarding out to the perimeter.

“The intensity, getting into them, we wanted to try and push transition,” Howard said. “Coming into the game, we knew they were going to try to slow the pace down on us, play some zone, so we knew we would have to focus long periods of time on defense and make sure our focus was high.”

Wood was called for six team fouls in the first quarter, while East wasn’t whistled once. Dean said that wasn’t a discouragement to continue being aggressive and physical on defense, it just meant the Vikings had to use their collective length and size to better effect.

The Vikings trailed 12-10 after the first quarter but the attrition of their defensive efforts started to show in the second, where they held East to just three points on an and-one layup by Jake Cummiskey and took a 22-15 lead into halftime. Early on, Wood coach John Mosco told his players to let him worry about what the officials were calling and to continue playing defense.

Mosco credited his guys, especially those coming off the bench to help offset some of the early foul trouble, for sticking to what they prepared for on defense.

“We were focused and into the scouting report,” Mosco said. “If they dribble at you, it’s going to be a backdoor, if they hit the opposite, it’s going to be a flare (screen) and so forth so we really paid attention to the scouting report and were really able to get after it.”

East only trailed 27-26 with 5:04 left in the third when Cummiskey (14 points) hit his second three-point shot of the frame, however, they would not get any closer. The Patriots didn’t score again until Tyler Dandrea hit a three with 4:02 left in the game, a nearly 11-minute of game time scoreless streak that saw Wood go on a 23-0 run.

Everyone got in on it too. Bethea, who only had three points at halftime, scored 10 points after halftime and added eight rebounds for the game, Howard had nine second half points and didn’t miss a shot in seven attempts and Deuce Maxey scored six of his 10 in the fourth quarter. Bethea, who played in front of the Syracuse coaching staff there to see him, is capable of going off for 30 or more points but the Vikings are just as good when they share the wealth.

“I think it’s extremely dangerous,” Howard said. “We have guys who can go. It’s hard to guard us, we’re going to go ever single game and try to score and play tough defense.”

The cold spell offensively did East in and it was even more frustrating for District I’s fifth-place finishing when a couple good looks at layups rimmed out and open threes were off the mark. Despite all that, senior forward Kyle Berndt had all positives to say about what he and his teammates accomplished on the year.

Berndt and Joey Giordano were anchors in the starting lineup as seniors while classmates Nick Condo and Nolan Jacob were invaluable leaders. While the Patriots will have key cogs like Cummiskey, Tyler Dandrea and Dhruv Mukund back for their senior seasons, this year’s group had a special chemistry that set a new, higher bar for the program under coach Erik Henrysen.

“This is one of the greatest years East has had in a long time, maybe even ever, and to do it with all these guys, I love all these guys and to be able to go to war with them every day in practice and the games, it’s been real,” Berndt said. “It’s our bond. We loved each other, we always played for each other and had each other’s back on and off the court.

“I’ll say it 100 more times, I love this group, love this coaching staff. I’d run through a wall for any of these guys and I’m sure they’d do the same for me.”

Wood, which finished runner-up in the state in 2021 and 2022, will face District 3’s Chambersburg after the Trojans’ stunning win over Plymouth Whitemarsh.

“Stay in the middle, that’s all we’ve got to do,” Dean said. “Not get too high, not get too low, just go on to the next game.”

Archbishop Wood 61, Central Bucks East 37
Archbishop Wood 10 12 17 22 — 61
Central Bucks East 12 3 13 9 — 37
Archbishop Wood: Jalil Bethea 6 0-0 13, Milan Dean 4 3-3 11, Josh Reed 1 1-2 3, Carson Howard 7 1-2 15, Gus Salem 1 0-0 3, Deuce Maxey 4 0-0 10, Ihsan Beyah 0 2-2 2, Eric Gardner 1 0-1 2, Grady Burt 1 0-0 2. Totals: 25 7-10 61
Central Bucks East: Joey Giordano 3 2-2 8, Jake Cummiskey 4 4-5 14, Dhruv Mukund 1 0-0 3, Tyler Dandrea 3 0-1 8, Ryan McDonald 2 0-0 4, Justin Pania 0 0-2 0. Totals: 13 6-10 37
3-pointers: AW – Maxey 2, Bethea, Salem; CBE – Cummiskey 2, Dandrea 2, Mukund.

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