NETHER PROVIDENCE >> As the fourth quarter of a tie game opened Tuesday night, Strath Haven’s Alex Ischiropoulos wasn’t thinking about the past.
The senior guard didn’t concern himself with the five wins his teams had collected over the last two seasons combined, about the lingering placement in or near the Central League basement the Panthers had often been consigned to.
Instead, he pondered how to write a new narrative.
“We knew that we are a fourth-quarter team,” Ischiropoulos said. “We knew that we could win this game and there was no reason why we shouldn’t.”
Ischiropoulos translated his confidence into a pair of fourth-quarter 3-pointers, complementing nine final-stanza points by John Harrar as the Panthers pulled away for a 55-49 win over rival Penncrest.
Harrar, Haven’s 6-8 center, banished three frustrating quarters by hitting all four of his field goal attempts in the final frame to finish with a team-high 13 points, leading a quartet into double-figures. Harrar’s second-chance, three-point play in the first minute of the fourth put Strath Haven up for good at 33-30.
Ischiropoulos stung the Lions with two fourth-quarter triples to compile 12 points. He landed the first dagger at 5:36 to put Haven up 38-32, then capped a 5-0 spurt at 3:04, responding to Penncrest’s nearest entreaty to tie the game at 40-39.
By the time the ball spun through the net, the lead stood at six, and the Panthers were on their way to equaling their combined total of Central League wins (two) from the last two years combined in the first three outings under first-year coach Dave McFadden.
“We’re learning how to win,” Harrar said. “We’re coming from a 3-19 season, so we’re learning how to get Ws. We’ve got to build off of this.”
“I think they just wanted it more,” Penncrest forward A.J. Taylor said. “They dug down deeper and they wanted it more than us. I feel that our team tried hard, but if we just dug deeper and had more smart plays, we would’ve won the game.”
The final nudge of the pendulum powered by Ischiropoulos and Harrar capped an entertaining if puzzlingly-officiated affair.
Strath Haven (4-1, 2-1) trailed by three at half despite recording one backcourt point in the first 16 minutes. (Neither team hit a 3-pointer until 1:28 of the third, and made jump shots were rarities.)
The upside to that imbalance was Haven’s insistence on playing through Harrar, despite his 2-for-6 first-half shooting performance. Kyree Fuller, who collected 12 points and 10 rebounds, and Josh Singleton, who supplied 10 points off the bench, compensated for Harrar’s struggles.
“I started off really slow in the first half, turned the ball over and everything,” Harrar said. “But we definitely built off our shooters, like Alex, in that fourth quarter. We didn’t force the ball inside, but we just dribbled and drove inside and got the easy buckets.”
Part of the post emphasis centered on Taylor, who scored 12 points. But he was forced to the bench in the third quarter, called for a soft loose-ball foul followed by a perplexing double-technical on him and Fuller that saddled the Penncrest senior with four personals at 2:43.
Luckily, Tyler Norwood rose to the occasion. The sophomore guard scored all 12 of Penncrest’s third-quarter points, using a pair of deep balls and his shiftiness in the lane to record a game-high 21. But his solo show was more indicative of the difficulties that Penncrest had to consistently generate offense than anything.
Playing without Justin Ross (wrist), the Lions (3-3, 1-2) had too few contributions from the supporting cast to stay in contact.
Instead, Haven showed the grit necessary to get a leg up in what Ischiropoulos termed a “very personal game.”
“This is huge,” Harrar added. “This is the first time we’ve beaten them in a while.”