CHESTER >> Six weeks.
That’s how long Upper Merion senior Matt Faw spent inactive and deprived of basketball action. The two months off was precisely what his doctors ordered after Faw suffered a bone injury in his foot following an awkward landing in a Dec. 20 meeting with Upper Perkiomen.
He returned just in time for the playoffs. And the Vikings sure are happy to have their 6-8 superstar back in the fold.
When No. 8 Upper Merion walked into Chester High’s Clip Joint for Saturday’s District 1 Class 5A quarterfinal, not many folks were expecting an upset. The Clippers were the top seed and a perennial contender for a PIAA championship.
Faw and the Vikings didn’t care.
“I believed as soon as I got in here, that we were going to win this game,” Faw said.
He was right.
Faw was perfect at the free-throw line down the stretch, going 8-for-8 in the fourth quarter to lead the Vikings to a thrilling 53-50 victory. UM (15-9) advances to the semifinal round Wednesday to face No. 4 Bishop Shanahan at Temple University’s Liacouras Center.
Faw poured in a game-high 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
The Clippers (18-6) will have to kick the bitter taste of a stunning defeat and battle for a berth in the PIAA tournament out of the losers bracket. The Clippers will prepare to tackle fifth-seeded West Chester Rustin Wednesday.
With 29.1 seconds to play, and Chester clinging to a one-point lead, Clippers point guard Michael Smith missed a 1-and-1 and Faw came down with the rebound. He was fouled, inadvertently, and strolled to the foul line where he made two to put the Vikings in front, 51-50.
Chester fumbled an opportunity to take the win in dramatic fashion. A loose ball led to a mad scrum underneath the basket. A jump ball was called, with the possession arrow in Upper Merion’s favor with 2.1 seconds to go.
Faw received the ensuing inbound pass and was hacked with 0.8 seconds. He calmly swished both freebies to make it 53-50.
While Upper Merion was effective from the charity stripe (18-for-22), Chester struggled mightily in far fewer opportunities (2-for-9).
“None of us has ever been in this position before. It’s all new to us,” said Faw, who led all players with 22 points. He was 13-for-15 at the foul line. “It’s an amazing feeling. We never stopped believing we could do this together.”
Ahrod Carter heaved a full-court shot as time expired. Chester, the No. 1 seed, had fallen in the second round of districts.
Jamar Sudan tried to explain it. The 6-7 power forward was a monster in the fourth quarter, willing his team back from the abyss after Upper Merion grabbed a 45-40 advantage with four minutes left. Sudan scored eight of his 14 points in the final period, but just as he was heating up and single-handedly (with a hat tip to Brian Randolph III, who came up with a few clutch steals) put the Clippers in front late, he was whistled for his fifth foul of the night.
“I felt like I had to take over and put the team on my back,” Sudan said. “At the start of the fourth quarter (when Upper Merion led, 35-33), we all came together. We didn’t want to lose in our house. We just needed to come out like that from the beginning.”
Carter had five 3-pointers and led all Clippers with 18 points.
Make no mistake, the Clippers had respect for the Vikings, who matched up very well with their trademark size and athleticism.
“We had a whole scouting report on them. We knew how good they can be,” Sudan said. “But tonight … it just wasn’t our night.”
That was foreshadowed in the first quarter when Upper Merion darted out to an 11-1 lead. Even from the outset, the Clippers could sense danger. The Vikings won the opening tip and held the ball for two minutes before Chester got its first possession. It was one part good defense by Chester, second part smart decision making from point guard Aidan Newell, Faw and Ethan Miller (11 points) the Vikings’ other dynamic big man. That first possession might have set the tone. And before Chester could even touch the ball, UM had a 4-0 lead.
“Going into the game, we were confident in ourselves,” said Newell, who had 11 points and three assists. “Really it’s been that way the whole season. The injury to Matt, it’s been tough. But we really got into a rhythm in our last game and coming into tonight, we had a lot of confidence.”
Upper Merion proved it. And the Vikings forced Chester to spend the next three days doing a lot of soul searching.