NEWTOWN SQUARE — All season, Tim Guers and Germantown Academy assistant coach Jonathan Haynes have had a running conversation on the meaning of senior leadership.
Friday night, against Episcopal Academy with the Inter-Ac League title on the line, Haynes and Guers ascertained that it was time to put those lessons into action.
“He told me it’s one thing to try to shut down (EA’s Matt) Woods; it’s another to try to take the game over,’ Guers recounted. “We’re up four, take the game into your hands. And that’s what I tried to do.’
In a tightly-balanced game begging for someone to take over, Guers obliged, draining 33 points and leading GA to a 74-50 win, clinching the Patriots’ third straight Inter-Ac title.
After the teams were separated by just four points at halftime, the reigning (and likely repeat) Inter-Ac player of the year grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck, scoring 27 points after the break; EA had just 29.
Guers had 16 in the third quarter alone, outscoring EA by three. He went through a stretch of hitting nine of 10 looks from the field, including three of four efforts from behind the arc. He was also a perfect 8-for-8 from the free throw line and found time for seven rebounds and four assists.
And yet, that might not even be the end of the floor at which he made the most profound impact. Where Guers orchestrated GA’s arsenal of scoring threats on one end, he muted one of the biggest of EA’s weapons on the other.
Woods entered Friday night having hit 60 3-pointers this season, including 13 in the last two games and five in EA’s 52-48 win over GA Jan. 9. Under Guers’ watch, Woods was all but invisible Friday. He didn’t attempt his first triple until 5:28 remained in the game and the fate of the Inter-Ac title had already been decided.
Losing Woods’ game-changing potential would’ve been enough of a hit most nights. But combined with the ongoing absence of Mike Jolaoso, missing his fourth straight game due to academic reasons, the Churchmen (17-6, 8-2) just didn’t have enough options to hit back at the Patriots (21-5, 9-1).
Their only 3-pointer of the game came from Woods. For a team that averages just shy of five made triples per game, EA only attempted three in the first three quarters despite trying to play catch-up.
With Jolaoso in street clothes and Woods blanketed by Guers, the offensive sets often devolved into either Mike Hinckley or Nick Alikakos trying to go it alone.
“It’s really tough playing without Mike,’ Hinckley said. “He brings a lot of toughness and a lot of playmaking ability to our team and without him, we do lose that a little bit. We did come together and reel off three wins in a row without him. We came together and played well, but it definitely was a big loss.’
Hinckley scored 14 points, and Alikakos got into double figures for the 23rd time this season with 20 points and 10 rebounds. But each trip down the court, it was increasingly obvious to the GA defense that those two were the only buttons to push.
It didn’t help that EA didn’t do a whole lot to help itself. The GA bench was up in arms that nine of the first 11 fouls of the second half were called on the Patriots. But EA shot just 10-for-18 from the line in the second half, including six for its first 12, to squander that edge.
“I felt like it wasn’t coming to us as it normally does and has throughout the season,’ Alikakos said. “We tried to find other ways, but they were really on, hitting a lot of their shots and stuff.’
EA’s paucity of options was in stark contrast to GA’s abundance of contributors. Kyle McCloskey crashed the boards with aplomb, scoring 17 points, many of the second-chance variety thanks to eight rebounds. Sam Lindgren added seven points and seven boards, while Evan-Eric Longino paired nine points with seven boards.
In all, GA held a 37-24 edge on the glass. When the Patriots seized control in the second quarter, using an 11-2 run to take the lead for good, four of the five baskets were second chances. That post presence also permitted Guers to focus on sealing off Woods instead of having to help down on drivers to the hoop.
The rest was up to Guers, who couldn’t miss in the second half, on drives to the hoop or on jump shots. Any time he got into trouble in the lane, it seemed he had a big to dish it to, shredding an Episcopal team that spent so much energy trying to generate offense that there was nothing left to stem the tide of GA’s momentum.
For Guers and company, there was no doubt that a third straight league title would have to come the hard way. When snow postponed this game three weeks ago, the directive to coach Jim Fenerty was clear: To defend their title, they’d have to go into Haverford School and Episcopal Academy back-to-back and notch wins.
Even down double-digits in the fourth quarter against the Fords Tuesday, the Patriots never gave up the belief.
“It’s been crazy, going back to Haverford,’ Guers said. “There was two minutes and 30 seconds and we were down 10. We weren’t sure if we were ever going to get to this point to win a championship outright. It just speaks to our team over the last two years to have the heart that we had to come back off an emotional win like that and then come in here and play a good Episcopal team and respond the way that we did.’
“We have a thought for the day before every practice,’ Fenerty said. “For the last week, it’s been the same thought, and it’s, ‘˜when you face adversity, you only go two ways: 1) you can run away from it and be left with your excuses, or 2) you can tackle it head on and do the best you can.’ And that’s what we tried to do tonight.’