LOWER MERION >> With a spot in the PIAA championship game on the line, it was not the ideal start for the Archbishop Wood boys basketball team.
Lower Merion jumped to a quick 12-2 lead Tuesday night, the District 1 champ Aces knocking down five 3-pointers to push their advantage to as large as a dozen during the first quarter.
The early deficit, however, did not exactly faze undefeated Wood.
“I think we were more calmer than the coaches,” Vikings senior guard Rahsool Diggins said. “The coaches probably was a little intense but we always know we find a way to win. That’s what great teams do no matter how many points you down.”
Archbishop Wood went to work chasing down Lower Merion in their PIAA Class 6A semifinals, the Philadelphia Catholic League champs finally grabbing their first lead late in the third before the sides entered the fourth even at 53 points apiece.
From there, Marcus Randolph made sure it was the Vikings moving on to Hershey.
The senior Richmond commit scored 13 of his team-high 24 points in the fourth as Wood grabbed a six-point advantage then held on the final minute to edge Lower Merion 72-68 at Kobe Bryant Gymnasium.
“It was just on my mind that we couldn’t make this our last high school game so had to step up and make plays,” Randolph said. “I’m trying to do whatever my team needs to win.”
Diggins added 16 points, including the go-ahead 3-pointer in the fourth, as the Vikings (19-0) advance to the PIAA final for the third time in five seasons and first time since reaching the Class 5A title game in 2019.
Wood faces District 3 champ Reading – a 68-46 winner over District 7 champ Upper Saint Clair in the other semifinal – for the 6A crown 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Giant Center.
“I was scared, too, with the slow start,” Vikings coach John Mosco said. “They’re great coached, great team, they do everything right. I was a little upset that we started out so slow because then they try to hold the ball which we were able to guard them and get them in some rush shots.
“And we just kept playing offense, kept plugging along and just being positive and we got stops, we got a few turnovers, we were able to turn the pressure on and off and get them to miss some shots.”
Jaylen Stinson tallied 10 of 12 points in the first half for Wood while Muneer Newton and Mike Knouse both finished with 10 points.
“We had to turn the intensity up on defense and that leads to easy points,” Diggins said. “They can’t sit in the zone, they got to play man, we get them running, get the big man moving and eventually they can’t make everything so they slowed down a little bit – cooled down.”
Lower Merion’s “big man” – 6-foot-9 junior Demetrius Lilley finished with a game-high 25 points, 12 of those coming in the second quarter. Zack Wong hit three 3-pointers in the first quarter in scoring 12 points while Sam Brown connected of three first-half threes as he registered 11 points. Jaylen Shippen and Sam Davison both chipped in 10 points for the Aces (11-5), who were looking to reach its first state final since winning the 4A championship in 2013.
“We don’t have a 6-9 guy –I think the best thing was the ball pressure and forcing other guys to do stuff,” Mosco said. “We wanted Brown to work for all of his stuff, not to leave him open. And then we started doubling Lilley a little bit. We had to work, once we ball-pressured, the pass was harder to get in.”
A Knouse 3-pointer pulled Wood even at 43 in the third before Lower Merion’s 8-0 run had the Aces leading 51-43 after a Lilley basket. But Wood responded with 10 straight points – five from Newton – to hold its first lead of the night at 53-51 when Jaylen Stinson scored off a backcourt steal. Wong’s layup put the contest at 53-all going into the last eight minutes.
Randolph’s breakaway dunk off a Newton deflection had the Vikings up 59-57 but Sam Davidson’s drive knotting things at 59. Diggins drained a three a few steps beyond the arc for a 62-59 Wood advantage. After the Aces missed on a tying trey, Randolph buried a triple from the right side for a 65-59 lead with 3:52 left.
“As a unit we all get each other back in the game,” Randolph said. “It’s never just one of us – everybody’s always positive, everybody always know at the end of the game we going to come through and we all going make the right plays to get the W.”
Two Randolph free throws at 2:53 had the Vikings again up six at 67-61. After a Lilley putback, Wood threw the ball out of bounds in the backcourt at 1:13. Jaylen Shippen was fouled on the drive at 59.1 seconds – he made the first at the line to get the Aces within 67-64.
Newton was fouled on a dunk try and hit his second free throw, pushing Wood’s lead to 68-64 at 47.2 seconds. A Lower Merion three was off-target and Randolph connected on both ends of a 1-and-1, extending the margin to 70-64 with 25.6 seconds.
A Shippen 3-pointer at 7.6 seconds made it 70-67. Randolph missed the front end of a 1-and-1 at 6.6 seconds but Wood’s Tyson Allen grabbed the rebound was fouled a 5.5 seconds. Allen, however, also could not convert on the 1-and-1.
Lilley grabbed the rebound and got the ball to Shippen, who was fouled at 1.4 seconds prior to let go a desperation 3-pointer. Shippen made the first of a 1-and-1, but in trying to purposely miss the second he did not hit the rim and the violation gave Wood an inbounds. Diggins tacked on the final two points after a long toss down the court.
Lower Merion grabbed the 12-2 lead with a 10-0 burst thanks to two Wong threes sandwiching four points from Davison.
Wood cut the deficit to six at 15-9 after a Randolph free throw at 1:38 but Brown and Lilley hit 3-pointers to put the Aces back up a dozen. A Stinson trey made it 21-12 at the conclusion of the first quarter.
After a Diggins three had Wood within 21-15 Lower Merion pushed its leads up to nine twice in the second quarter, the last time at 26-17 on a Lilley basket inside.
The Vikings tied the game at 34 with a 7-0 run capped by a Stinson trey. Wood was even again at 36 but the Aces collected the half’s last five points – Brown’s corner three sending Lower Merion into the break ahead 41-36.
Lilley opened scoring in the third to make it 43-36 but Wood tallied the next seven – Knouse’s trey tying the game at 43-43. A Wong free throw at 4:46 had Lower Merion back up while a Shippen 3-pointer increased the lead to four. Baskets from Davison and Lilley had the Aces up 51-43.
Randolph got a three from the top of the arc to fall while a Newton provided the next five on a putback and three-point play to knot things at 51 with 54.7 seconds in the third. Stinson’s basket off a steal made it a 10-0 run and a 53-51 Wood lead.
Archbishop Wood 72, Lower Merion 68
Archbishop Wood 12 24 17 19 – 72
Lower Merion 21 20 12 15 – 68
Archbishop Wood: Marcus Randolph 7 8-10 24; Rahsool Diggins 6 2-2 16; Jaylen Stinson 5 0-0 12; Mike Knouse 4 0-0 10; Muneer Newton 4 2-3 10; Robert Jackson 0 0-2 0; Tyson Allen 0 0-1 0; Totals 26 12-18 72.
Lower Merion: Demetrius Lilley 10 4-5 25; Zack Wong 4 1-2 12; Sam Brown 4 0-0 11; Sam Davison 5 0-0 10; Jaylen Shippen 3 2-4 10; Totals 26 7-11 68.
3-pointers: AW-Diggins 2, Knouse 2, Randolph 2, Stinson 2; LM-Brown 3, Wong 3, Shippen 2, Lilley.