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Lilley helps power Lower Merion past Downingtown West

DOWNINGTOWN >> The 8-9 matchup in most basketball brackets is an intriguing one.

That was the case during Tuesday’s District 1 6A boys’ first round clash between Lower Merion and Downingtown West. It was two solid teams going at it, but the host Whippets had absolutely no answer for 6-foot-9 center Demetrius Lilley.

The junior poured in a season-high 31 points and hauled down 19 rebounds to power the Aces to a forceful 70-59 triumph and into a quarterfinal matchup against top-seeded Cheltenham.

“The 8-9 matchup in the NCAA Tournament are often pick-ems,” said Lower Merion head coach Gregg Downer.

“This was on the road against a quality opponent, so to get a double-digit win is pretty good.”

The ninth-seeded Aces (9-4 overall) entered the contest on a three-game skid, including a tough decision on Saturday in a tune-up game against Philadelphia Mathematics Civics & Sciences. And even though eighth-seeded Downingtown West came in having won nine of 10, Lower Merion led most of the way, and never looked to be in danger of blowing another late lead.

“I thought it was a pretty clean performance,” Downer said. “We blew a big lead against Math Civics & Sciences, so it’s been kind of a learning curve for us. We got the 10 points lead this time and kind of kept it there.”

The Aces will travel to Cheltenham for a 7 p.m. Friday clash, with the winner headed to the semifinals. And in the one-and-done pared down district field, the loser goes home for good. The Whippets season ends with a 10-4 mark.

“To win the state title, you need to win six games, and that seems pretty daunting,” Downer pointed out. “But we’re going to take them one at a time. I don’t care if they are at home or on the road, we are going to be ready with a good plan.”

Lilley accounted for 13 of Lower Merion’s 23 field goals on Tuesday, and seemed to make a clutch score or rebound whenever West threatened a comeback. At 50-46 with just over six minutes on the clock, Lilley scored back-to-back inside buckets. Moments later, he notched a big defensive block that led to a couple free throws, and suddenly the margin was back to 11.

“I thought Lilley was fabulous. He was really locked in and he can be a force when he is focused,” Downer said.

“I was definitely locked in tonight,” added Lilley, who was just four points shy of his career high. “We came here to win and move on in District 1.”

Guards Sam Davison and Sam Brown were also impactful, combining to score 29 points for the Aces. A senior, Davison scored seven of his 15 points in the final period, while Brown (a sophomore) scored seven of his 14 in the fourth.

“We have seniors on the team and they told everybody to play like it’s our last game, because it will be if we lose,” Lilley said. “We came into this game with the mentality that we have to win.”

Less than five minutes into the first quarter, Whippets’ 6-9 sophomore center Jake Warren was whistled for his second foul and had to sit out the rest of the half. West went with a couple backups, but nobody could slow down Lilley as he scored 11 points to spearhead a 20-10 surge to end the half, turning a three-point deficit into a 34-27 lead at the break.

“Losing Jake (Warren) early in the game to foul trouble definitely impacted things,” said Whippets’ head coach Stu Ross. “He was a big part of our game plan.”

With Warren back in the game, he sparked a third quarter run that sliced the margin to 39-36, but Davison nailed a 3-pointer and Lilley scored inside to regain a double-digit lead, and Lower Merion never trailed again.

“A couple more made shots here and there the game might have been different. And we missed some we usually make,” Ross said.

“(Lilley) made some jump shots and that’s not something we saw on film. He is a talented kid and he played a great game.”

Despite limited playing time, Warren paced West with 16 points, sophomore Dylan Blair added 15 points and senior Sean Kaiser chipped in 11.

“We were prepared not to even have a season, so we are grateful to even have had the opportunity to play,” Ross said.

“This group was probably the closest group I’ve had since I’ve been here. It was a joy to coach them. They were dedicated and bought in to what we were trying to get done.”

Number 16 seed Methacton took Cheltenham to the limit before falling, 45-43, on Tuesday. And the Aces certainly aren’t planning to back down on Friday.

“We always tell our kids to throw the seeds out the window, and especially now in a COVID year. Things are very unusual,” Downer said.

“We are ready,” Lilley added.

Lower Merion 70, Downingtown West 59

Lower Merion                                             14 20 14 22 — 70

Downingtown West                                   11 16 14 18 — 59

LOWER MERION – Shippen 0 1-4 1; Davison 4 6-10 15; Brown 3 6-6 14; Wong 2 1-2 6; Wright 1 0-0 3; Lilley 13 2-2 31. Totals 23 16-24 70.

DOWNINGTOWN WEST – Blair 5 5-6 15; Dever 4 0-0 10; Hardin 1 0-1 2; Kaiser 3 4-4 11; Miree 2 1-1 5; Warren 6 1-2 16. Totals 21 11-14 59.

3-pointers: Davison, Brown 2, Wong, Wright, Lilley 3, Dever 2, Kaiser, Warren 3.

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