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Dixon scores 31, powers Abington past Cheltenham in second half

Abington's Eric Dixon brushes past North Penn's Matt Swanson during their game on Saturday Jan. 13, 2018. Dixon had 31 points in Abington's 74-54 win over Cheltenham on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018.

ABINGTON >> Eric Dixon expected to hear something about it.

Last season, the Abington forward had missed a couple late free throws against Cheltenham, keeping the door open enough for the Panthers to burst through it and pick up a win in the backyard rivalry. So, even though this year’s meeting was in his own gym, Dixon expected the Panthers faithful to remind him of what happened.

But Dixon also knows the type of player he is and he put on a show Saturday afternoon, scoring 31 points and hitting 10-of-11 at the line as the Ghosts pulled away in the second half to top Cheltenham 74-54.

“It’s a rivalry you hear about coming up, I’ve lived here my whole life and all you hearing as a young’n is that you’re going to play in this game,” Dixon said. “The first two times, it didn’t go our way but coming out this time, it’s a big win but it’s also like coach (Charles Grasty) says, it’s just another team in the way.”

Grasty gets asked a lot about Dixon, the 6-foot-8 junior who owns a heap of Division I college offers and the Ghosts coach has found one word to try and sum up the post force. Dixon is special, Grasty says and while he has range, demonstrated by a long 3-pointer in the first half, he’s at his best working on the blocks.

Playing inside naturally invites contact and contact brings free throws. Cheltenham had won the last two meetings between the teams and Ghost senior Robbie Heath was the only player on the roster to have played in a win over the Panthers, so there was plenty of motivation to go around.

But every time Dixon stepped to the line, he was serenaded by the Panthers’ student section. He didn’t let it bother him.

“That’s all part of it,” Dixon said. “I know who I am as a player and they know who I am. It comes with it all, I was expecting it, I was ready for it. I just wanted to lock in and win the game.”

Cheltenham (10-5, 6-1 SOL American) hung step-for-step with Abington (11-2, 7-0 SOL National) in the first half and was in the game in the third quarter until foul trouble finally slowed them down. The Panthers are also in the midst of trying restructure after losing their standout senior, Jack Clark, to an injury earlier in the week.

Clark, a La Salle recruit, injured his left knee against Hatboro-Horsham and Panthers coach John Timms fears it could be an ACL injury and season-ending. Cheltenham was able to outlast Upper Dublin on Friday in its first full game without Clark and Timms said the area the 6-foot-7 wing will most be missed is on defense.

Of course, losing Clark’s nearly 20 points per game on offense is a huge blow, but Timms noted the Panthers are a “scoring team” so they can create more looks for other guys, but they can’t replicate that combination of length and quickness that Clark brought on the other end.

“The first half, we competed and in the second half we got a little deflated,” Timms said. “Some shots didn’t fall and I think that took a little bit of our aggression away. We started settling a little more for jumpshots and we had a couple missed layups that helped turn the tide. That, and Eric Dixon basically took over in the second half.”

When these two teams meet, the speedometer of the game gets pushed right to the red line, with both sides looking to push the ball up the floor off anything, rebound, make, miss, turnover and all in between. Abington led 18-12 after the first quarter, but with the shots Cheltenham was getting, all the Panthers needed was a couple to drop in.

Tim Myarick, the Cheltenham sixth man who has taken over Clark’s starting spot, scored all nine of his points in the first frame as a life raft. His teammates got themselves going in the second quarter as Cheltenham dropped 25 on Abington and went into the half tied 37-37. Point guard Ahmad Bickley led Cheltenham with 18 points and scored eight in the second frame while also looking to get teammates involved.

“He was a playmaker, he’s garnished Division II interest as a throwback playmaker, a guy who sets others up, but he can score,” Timms said. “If he doesn’t get in foul trouble, we’re hanging around. The second quarter was our best quarter and he created at least 11 points in that quarter. We were ready to work Ahmad and then the foul trouble picked up.”

Giving up 25 points in a quarter isn’t Abington and Grasty made that the focus of his halftime talk.

“We definitely talked about that, Cheltenham is good, they go on some nice, long runs, they get after it and they’re scrappy and they made shots that second quarter,” Grasty said. “I didn’t go down there to yell and scream and find out what we were doing wrong. I just said to buckle down and let’s see if they can continue to make those types of shots. We stepped up in the third quarter, our effort picked up.”

Dixon said the difference was the team’s effort defensively in the second half. There were a couple matchup tweaks, but the Ghosts really swung the game by playing more energetic on defense and continuing to attack on offense.

The Ghosts kept going to Dixon in the third with the junior scoring eight of Abington’s first 10 second half points and he was drawing plenty of fouls. Cheltenham couldn’t go small and had to deal with Kyin Healey fouling out and Lonce Scott picking up his fourth foul in the frame.

“The game was tied at half, me being who I am, they expect a big effort especially in a game like this,” Dixon said. “I had to come out to try and play the right way. It just happened I scored most of the points, but I was just as happy to get 10 rebounds in the game too.

“We know they’re an aggressive team against anybody but against us they may be a little extra ramped up. We wanted to try and get them to bite on pump fakes, reach and for us to try and get to the rim and draw fouls.”

Bickley picked up his fourth foul with 2:45 left in the third, and Abington only up 47-43. The guard sat until the start of the fourth quarter and Abington hit five of six at the stripe to close the frame up 52-43 with Dixon shooting 6-of-6 from the line in the period.

Abington senior Robbie Heath also turned in a strong game, scoring 21 points and showing plenty of aggression in the second half, taking nine of his 12 free throws after intermission.

“They’re smart, if the whistle is putting you on the line, you attack the basket,” Timms said. “That’s smart players understanding how the game is being called. They were penetrating and scored 26 points from the free throw line. That’s the game.”

Bickley fouled out with 5:33 left in the game, and the Cheltenham offense in general never found the same groove it had in the first half. Abington held the Panthers to just 17 second half points.

Timms said he wants to focus on defense going into next week and continue to adjust the rotation without Clark, getting guys more comfortable playing more minutes or being more of a scoring threat.

Dixon threw down two dunks in the fourth quarter, the first putting Abington up 56-43 and the second coming as the midpoint of a 12-0 run that essentially finished off the game. The forward also eclipsed the 30-point margin in last year’s game, but given that Saturday’s showing came with a win, this one felt much better.

“He’s a special talent, he gets after it and he’s very humble,” Grasty said. “He plays for his teammates and he can put the ball in the basket. He rebounds, he defends, he’s an all-around player and he gets us going.”

CHELTENHAM 12 25 6 11 – 54
ABINGTON 18 19 15 20 – 74
Cheltenham: Ahmad Bickley 6 3-4 18, Amir Lewis 3 1-3 8, Zahree Harrison 3 3-4 10, Tim Myarick 3 3-3 9, Kyin Healey 2 0-0 4, Brandon Scott 1 1-1 3, Jaelen Mclone 1 0-1 2. Nonscoring: Lonce Scott, Terrance McCall, John Wallace, David Pope, Lance Tolliver. Totals: 19 11-16 54.
Abington: Eric Dixon 10 10-11 31, Robbie Heath 6 9-12 21, Lucas Monroe 3 7-10 13, Darious Brown 1 0-0 2, Xavier Crawford 1 0-0 2, Bryan Coffman 1 0-0 3, Hasan Whiby 1 0-0 2. Nonscoring: Brandon Coffman, Maurice Henry, JP Nolan, Dante Knox, Howie Burrell, Derek Sussman. Totals: 23 26-33 74.
3-pointers: A – Dixon, Bryan Coffman; C – Bickley 3, Lewis, Harrison.

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