UPPER DARBY — Jack Cavanaugh received high praise from coach Bob Miller after Upper Darby’s 73-68 victory over Plymouth Whitemarsh in a District 1 Class 6A playback game Friday night.
“That was the best game he’s had all season,” Miller said.
And in the biggest game of the 19th-seeded Royals’ season, where a win kept them alive for a berth in next month’s PIAA tournament and a loss would send them home for good, Cavanaugh delivered in the clutch.
Cavanugh, a sharpshooting senior guard, buried the go-ahead 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter after Plymouth Whitemarsh went ahead on a trey by exciting freshman guard Qudire Bennett.
“If you watched him all offseason and every day in practice, he’s a kid who makes shot after shot. He just hasn’t had a night like this,” Miller said. “I told my assistant coaches that when we lost (junior guard) Shareef Jones (to a season-ending injury) for playoffs, that we really need Jack to step up and make some shots.”
He did from the moment he stepped onto the floor. When called upon off the bench, Cavanaugh drilled two of nine 3-pointers the teams combined for in the first quarter. He was quiet in the middle two periods, missing a pair of 3-point attempts, but when the Royals needed a big shot down the stretch, he came through.
“He’s in the top five percent in his class and he’s a really great kid,” Miller said. “That’s the first time all year, in a big spot, that I drew up a specific play for him … where he came off the screen in the corner. He never plays corner … but he was having a hot night. That was the biggest shot of the game.”
Cavanaugh and Iyan Joshuasville each hit four 3-pointers. As a team, the Royals enjoyed one of their best shooting performances of the season, connecting on 54 percent (26-for-48) of their field goal attempts, including 10 of 22 from long distance.
“We were coming off an absolutely horrible game against Cheltenham, so we had to prove that we could beat a good team and we could play better. We’re just trying to extend our season. For all the seniors, we don’t want the season to end, we just want to keep playing basketball.
“I am just happy that I could help the team get a good victory.”
The Royals (13-12) and Colonials (12-13) played an exciting, back-and-forth game. The largest lead for both teams was a mere five points. PW closed the first half on an 8-0 run to take a 35-32 advantage into the locker room.
All hell broke lose during a four-minute span in the third quarter. Both teams ran the floor and caused turnovers. Joshuasville heated up and score 10 points during the stretch. With a minute to go in the period, David Jones swished a 3-ball to give PW a four-point edge.
Kachi Nzeh, an impressive 6-7 sophomore center, scored inside the paint to even things up at 62. UD guard AJ Tucker hit a layup to make it 64-62 before Bennett canned his fifth of six 3-pointers to give the Colonials the one-point lead. On the Royals’ ensuing possession, Cavanaugh put the Royals back on top to stay.
Point guard CJ Dabbs iced the game at the free-throw line. He dished out seven assists, too.
“We all wanted the same thing, and we knew we had to win if we wanted to keep going in the playoffs,” Dabbs said. “We worked really hard in practice after the Cheltenham game, working on our defense and working on pushing the ball.”
Thanks in large part to Nzeh’s low-post dominance, the Royals outrebounds the Colonials, 33-21.
Nzeh registered 13 points, 16 rebounds and four blocked shots. Tucker tallied 13 of his team-high 17 points in the second half, while Joshuasville finished with 16 points.
Upper Darby meets second-seeded Garnet Valley in the next playback round Tuesday. The winner goes to states.
“That’s all we want is to get to states,” Cavanaugh said.
Bennett led all players with 28 points on 10-for-17 shooting from the floor.
In other District 1 Class 6A playbacks:
Garnet Valley 62, Spring-Ford 58 >> Max Jackowsky hit a 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter to give the Jaguars (21-4) some breathing room. Starting in place of Chris Coyne, who was sidelined with the flu, Jackowsky amassed 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Carl Schaller generated 19 points and Valantis Apostolopoulos added 13.
Garnet Valley hosts Upper Darby in the next playback game Tuesday night.
Central Bucks East 46, Haverford 32 >> It’s the end of the road for the Central League champion Fords, who were seeded 16th in the district tournament.
The Fords were without top player and guard John Seidman due to injury.
Will Higson, John Scheivert and Googie Seidman netted six points apiece.