WESTTOWN >> Great Valley shrugged off another slow start, and showed the kind of resiliency that head coach C.J. Savage now expects from his basketball squad. The only problem is that the Patriots have had to do it too many times this season.
“We’ve been down double digits at times this season, and this group is so resilient,” he said. “But I want to get to the point where we get off to quick starts so that we don’t have to be resilient.”
Despite the shaky start, Great Valley still went on to clinch the Ches-Mont American regular season crown on Tuesday with a 67-48 road win at West Chester Rustin. At 8-1 (14-3 overall), the Pats are assured a berth in the upcoming four-team league playoff.
“Hey, we have a target on our backs and we are going to get everybody’s best shot,” Savage said. “When you are at the top, everybody comes after you.”
The Golden Knights (3-4, 7-10) actually outscored Great Valley by five in the first and fourth quarters, but were blasted 39-19 in the middle two periods.
“We needed this tonight to compete for the postseason, and I still think we have a shot,” said Rustin’s first-year head coach Vince Mostardi.
Savage got 48 combined points from senior Connor Gal and freshman phenom Cam Wallace. A shooting guard, Gal outscored the Knights all by himself, 11-9, in a second quarter comeback, and then Wallace did the same in the third period to put the Patriots in command.
“Connor has been our captain and leader all season,” Savage said. “Obviously Cam is a talented player, but Connor has been our backbone. He hits key shots and makes important plays for us.”
Trailing 12-6 after one quarter, Gal buried a trio of 3-pointers to give Great Valley a 25-21 halftime lead it would not relinquish. And then when Rustin started to shade its defense his way in the second half, Wallace took over. The 6-foot-4 guard-forward poured in 13 of his game-high 28 points in the third to give his team a 45-31 lead.
“I noticed (Rustin) was face-guarding Connor (Gal) and they were backing off me. If you do that, I will score,” Wallace said matter-of-factly.
The Knights never gave up, however, even after junior starter Sam Sproull fouled out, and eventually sliced the deficit to single digits with two minutes to go. But the Pats closed it out at the free throw line, knocking down 10-14. Wallace added 10 more points in the final period and finished with a game-high 13 rebounds.
Despite clawing back to make it interesting, it was no consolation to Mostardi.
“At this point, we are not looking for any moral victories,” he said. “We think we are good enough to compete with the best teams, and (Great Valley) is the best team in the league.”
Rustin sure looked the part in the opening eight minutes, forcing Great Valley into six misses and two turnovers on its first eight possessions.
“We had the kind of energy we were hoping for to kind of transcend the rest of the game,” Mostardi said.
“I thought I was dreaming,” Savage added. “Actually it was a nightmare and I was wondering when I was going to wake up.
“Getting off to a better start is one thing we’ve been emphasizing in practice. But when we get going, we get going.”
Gal finished with 20 points, and the Patriots wound up making more from the stripe (16) than the Knights attempted (11). The only real disappointment was the start.
“We usually start off pretty slow – we have to get better at that,” Wallace said. “We always have a chip on our shoulder and always want to win, but we have to pick it up right from the start.”
Junior forward Ian Schlesinger led Rustin with 16 points, but nobody else reached double figures.
“Ian continues to be aggressive and he shoots the ball well,” Mostardi said. “We just need to find other guys who are going to be able to help us with the scoring load. We are not the type of team that can rely on just one guy.”
Great Valley 67, West Chester Rustin 48
Great Valley 6 19 20 20 — 67
W.C. Rustin 12 9 10 19 — 48
GREAT VALLEY – DiMedio 2 0-0 5; Gal 8 1-1 20; Pranav 0 5-6 5; Wallace 9 9-13 28; Markowski 2 0-0 6; McDaniel 0 1-2 1. Totals 21 16-22 67.
W.C. RUSTIN – McCray 1 0-0 2; Giunta 4 0-0 9; Nochumson 3 0-0 7; Hatton 3 2-5 8; Sproull 3 1-4 8; Schlesinger 6 2-2 16. Totals 20 5-11 48.
Three pointers: DiMedio, Gal 3, Wallace, Markowski 2, Giunta, Nochumson, Sproull, Schlesinger 2.