HAVERFORD >> After a first half in which Friends’ Central’s DeAndre Hunter blistered his team for 19 points, Haverford School coach Bernie Rogers reasoned that the best strategy for defending the star swingman involved keeping him on the bench for as long as possible.
That tactic worked … at least for a little while.
Hunter shook off a quick bout of foul trouble after halftime to finish with 35 points, keying the Phoenix’s 68-57 nonleague win Monday afternoon.
Rogers’ halftime message reinforced what he tried to impress upon his charges pre-game, that making Hunter work on the defensive end and goad him into foul trouble would be the best way to slow down the University of Virginia-bound small forward. By redoubling efforts to feed the post, the Fords saddled Hunter with three quick fouls in as many minutes in the third quarter. He was whistled for his fourth in questionable fashion on a loose ball in the first minute of the fourth.
“We just wanted to really attack him hard on offense, get him in foul trouble and try to get him out of the game,” Haverford forward Jack Marshall said. “He’s a great player, a great shooter, and we just knew the best way we could handle him was to put him on the bench, get him in foul trouble.”
Hunter’s temporary seat on the bench helped the Fords (5-5) mount a charge in a seesaw battle of runs. The Phoenix preserved their 12-point halftime lead for the first two minutes of the second half before Haverford School rattled off a 13-3 spurt, keyed by eight Kharon Randolph points and an intensified commitment to pressure defense, especially in Friends’ Central’s halfcourt sets. Marshall’s bucket with under a minute left in the third whittled the lead to two, 41-39.
“We were being aggressive at that time, and when (Hunter) got in foul trouble, we got even more aggressive and it got us easy baskets,” said Randolph, who finished with a team-high 19 points, including four 3-pointers. “We started to chip away at the lead.”
Try as they might, the Phoenix (6-4) couldn’t maintain the same level without Hunter on the court. Sans the 6-7 wing and his imminent threat isolated one-on-one with defenders, Friends’ Central tried to run its normal offense. But on a day like Monday, where only four players scored and only five attempted field goals, that just wasn’t possible.
“We try to stay aggressive, try to get better shots,” said Chuck Champion, who scored 20 points for the Phoenix. “Usually he’s pretty good at creating shots for himself and others, so we try to do more of that and get good shots for ourselves.”
Two points would be as close as the Fords got though, thanks to Hunter. While he was limited timewise, his influence remained profound. Off an inbounds play in the final seconds of the third quarter, Hunter absorbed contact, hung in the lane and finished a 3-point play that stretched the lead to 44-39. It’s the last time the Fords would be so close.
Chuck Champion hits a 3. At the half, Friends Central leads Haverford School, 35-23. https://t.co/I8nHMlVL0Q
— Matthew De George (@sportsdoctormd) December 21, 2015
That was but one brushstroke on Hunter’s masterpiece of a game. He finished with 35 points and 11 rebounds, plus a team-high four assists and two blocks. He was a ridiculous 11-for-15 from the field, including 3-for-4 from 3-point land. At the line, he knocked down 10 of 11 attempts. He and Champion combined to go 13-for-14 from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter.
The Fords, though, got their chances to make the game interesting in the final frame. Their plan to attack the lane with Marshall (18 points) and Asim Richards (11 points) was derailed slightly by the latter’s second-half foul trouble. In the fourth, even with Hunter nursing four fouls, the Fords settled for too many jump shots, no matter how well set up by the dribble-and-kick of Randolph.
The Fords missed their first four looks from 3-point range in the fourth; by the time Randolph canned his fourth and final triple of the game, all it did was limit the damage to 56-47, coming on the heels of a silky step-back jumper and a power move to the glass by Hunter on back-to-back possessions.
Despite the missed chances, there’s little disappointment for the Fords. They have a light Christmas season calendar with just two more games on the slate before opening league play Jan. 8. In his first season at the helm, Rogers has focused all of his rebuilding efforts on the long view of prepping for the Inter-Ac.
Taken in that context, Monday’s near miss is just another of many steps.
“Coach Rogers has done a great job with telling us that everything we’re doing is preparing for the Inter-Ac,” Marshall said. “We want to make a run in the Inter-Ac and make some noise. We’re not really favored, but we want to make some noise and bring it.”
“It’s not frustration,” Randolph said. “It’s just getting better, chipping away each day at little things to get us over that hump.”
In other nonleague action:
Academy Park 82, Friere Charter 33 >> Nassan Garrison posted a double-double (13 points, 10 rebounds) and Jawan Collins did his usual stat-sheet stuffing with 24 points, nine assists, five rebounds and four steals.
DeAndray Covert also got into double figures with 13 points as Academy Park (4-3) buried 11 3-pointers.
In the Bicentennial League:
Delco Christian 59, New Hope-Solebury 51 >> Grant Fischer continued his torrid return from injury with 19 points to help the Knights (3-2, 1-2) earn their first league win.
Fischer was joined in double figures by Wyatt Harkins (14 points) and Devin Hill (12).