LOWER MERION — A little sheepishly, Demetrius Lilley admits that blocking shots isn’t really his thing. For his imposing 6-foot-9 frame, he’s still growing into his athleticism.
“Years ago, I could not block a shot for nothing,” the Lower Merion big man said. “In practice, we practice the wall up, so that’s helped me get better in the game. So I can block shots now.”
In Lilley’s position, camped in the low post at the center of Lower Merion’s defense, the only time he gets recognition on the stat sheet is when he fills up a boxscore or manages to get a hand on a shot. That may get the crowd riled up, but Lilley takes just as much pride in the myriad non-plays, the missed shots that owe to the very thought of him in the lane.
It doesn’t hurt that Lilley is pretty proficient when he does get his hands on the ball.
Lilley scored 25 points to go with 21 rebounds, three blocks and a slew of shots altered or deterred Tuesday night as the Aces topped Haverford, 58-47, in a battle of one-loss Central League teams.
“A block doesn’t really matter, but just knowing that I can change a shot, that matters,” Lilley said. “And it helps my team.”
Lilley was the deciding factor, as has become the norm for the Penn State commit who celebrated his 1,000th career point on the weekend. The regularity with which he got the ball on offense tracked neatly with Lower Merion’s offensive performance. He hardly touched the ball in the first four minutes of play, allowing Haverford (11-3, 8-2 Central) to run out to a 14-10 lead. But he replied in the second quarter with 12 points and eight rebounds, putting the Aces up two at the break.
In the third, the Fords made headway, largely with the Aces (14-2, 10-1) not directing offense through Lilley. But he ended up with seven points in the frame to put Lower Merion up 37-34.
He’s diversified his game ably. He was 11-for-14 from the field, most attempts within three feet of the rim, including an exclamation point slam in the final 10 seconds. But he hit his only 3-pointer of the game, threw a Eurostep at the Fords off the bounce and displayed a soft touch in the lane.
“Next level, I can’t just be the big man,” Lilley said. “I can’t just post up with my back to the basket. So I have to expand my game a little more. Coach (Gregg) Downer gave me a little leeway to expand my game a little more.”
And then there was the defense. By and large, the Fords dialed up the right game plan, recognizing Lilley would stay rooted to the low block, meaning open looks on the perimeter for the smaller man he was supposed to guard. But the Fords didn’t hit enough shots, going 6-for-24 from 3-point range, while deprived a steady steam of easy buckets thanks to the specter of Lilley in the lane.
“When he’s at the basket, it’s definitely difficult to finish around the rim,” Haverford wing JR Newman said. “You’ve got to be creative. If you can’t get the layup, you’ve got to look out for shooters.”
Haverford got the start it wanted behind eight first-quarter points from Googie Seidman. But Seidman attempted just four shots in the final three quarters, finishing with 10 points.
Newman struggled in the first half, shooting 1-for-9 from the field. But he kept the Fords close in the third when he supplied 10 points.
The Fords were left to rue a string of 12 straight possessions, late in the third quarter into the fourth, where they came up empty. The first seven trips came with Lower Merion up just one possession.
“It was definitely difficult not being able to close it out,” said Newman, who scored 12 points. “That’s something we have to work on, late-game situations and get better at it for later in the season.”
Haverford didn’t score its first points of the fourth until Tommy Wright splashed home a 3-pointer with 2:26 left in regulation. By that time, Lower Merion had run off 14 straight points to put the game away. Wright finished with 14 points and three steals. Nick Colucci added nine points and team-highs in rebounds (eight) and assists (three).
Tuesday’s game was the eighth annual Hope Classic, raising money to fight Angelman Syndrome. It honors Hope Grugan, the daughter of Lower Merion assistant coach and Haverford resident Kevin Grugan. This year’s edition was dedicated to the memory of Sean Hughes, the Lower Merion principal who died in a car accident in November and who was instrumental in starting the Hope Classic.
Lower Merion, who is without perimeter scorer Sam Brown, got just enough from the supporting cast. Sam Wright scored all six of his points in the fourth quarter, including a momentum-shifting 3-pointer. Justin Poles helped ice the game with a 7-for-7 performance at the line in the fourth. He scored 11 points. Jaylen Shippen added nine.
The result continues a Main Line tangle atop the standings. Lower Merion and Radnor have one league loss each, the Aces having beaten the Raptors. Conestoga, which handed Lower Merion its loss, started the night with two losses, now joined by Haverford.
“They are all great teams,” Lilley said. “They all put up a fight against us, and they all have great players. So it’s a battle.”
Also in the Central League:
Penncrest 49, Marple Newtown 37 >> Saahir Lee scored 19 points as the Lions used a 12-5 edge in the third quarter. Brandon Hemphill supplied 12 points, Ben Stanton chipped in 10 points and Quinten Perilli grabbed 14 rebounds.
Justin DiBona led Marple Newtown with nine points, and Owen Mathes added eight.
Upper Darby 46, Ridley 44 >> Niymire Brown scored 20 points as the Royals held a 20-14 edge in the fourth quarter to get the win. Jamier Burnett added 10 points.
Tahir Mills led the Green Raiders with 23 points.
Radnor 43, Springfield 37 >> Jackson Hicke scored 20 points, including a 9-for-10 performance from the line in the fourth quarter, to preserve the win. Cooper Mueller chipped in 11 points for the Raptors.
Mike O’Donnell led Springfield with 13 points.
Harriton 49, Strath Haven 45 >> Jaden Jauregui scored 19 points and Alonzo Ogunde paired 12 points with 10 rebounds, but the Panthers came up short.