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Boys basketball: Aces top East in second round


Don Leypoldt

Kobe Bryant led Lower Merion to a 1996 state title.

The 2020 version of the Aces aren’t too shabby either.

Playing in No. 5 Lower Merion’s fourth home game since Bryant’s tragic passing, the Aces led wire-to-wire in a convincing District One 6A second-round 63-48 win over No. 12 Central Bucks East.

“We felt pretty confident in what their strengths were,” noted East coach Erik Henrysen. “I just think we did a poor job of limiting their big kid (Demetrius Lilley) and getting out on (Sam) Brown. They got a little bit of momentum and it was tough for us.”

In the first half, East shot at a basket underneath a Bryant mural. In the second, they shot at the hoop under Bryant’s retired No. 33 jersey.

But Brown, not Bryant, was the early hero. He hit his third triple three minutes into the game and Lower Merion played outstanding defense to build a 12-2 lead.

“Brown got them off to a great start hitting a couple of threes that we didn’t close out on,” Henrysen said. “We got shots, open looks and wide open threes that usually go for us. They didn’t. And once the lead started to stretch, we had trouble clawing back.”

Jack Hamilton roused the East crowd with a tremendous dunk on a 3-point play with seven seconds left in the first, but Zach Wong’s tip at the buzzer put the Aces up 14-5.

East matched the defensive intensity; both teams scored just one basket in the first half of the second quarter.

“We didn’t panic. We got out on the shooters that we identified,” said senior Tyler Young. “We tried to pack it in and not give anyone easy baskets.”

The Aces carried a 25-12 lead into halftime. Lower Merion shut out Joe Jackman, CB East’s leading scorer, in the first half.

Lilley shined in the third, scoring 12 points in the quarter via a dunk, a three, a hook and deft foul shooting. “You can’t let him catch deep. If he catches down there, he is hard to stop with his height and size,” observed East center Hamilton, who like Lilley is 6-foot-8.

The Patriots showed fight in the fourth, winning the quarter 28-22. They drove the lane and connected on four threes in the game’s last eight minutes. “We got down early and had our back against the wall. We had to do something. Shots weren’t falling,” Young noted. “We tried to attack the rim and make something happen.”

Young’s 13 paced the Patriots. Anthony Giordano’s 11 points and Christian Rivera’s eight points were both season highs. Hamilton added seven points.

“I thought we were ready. We got good shots. They just weren’t falling,” Young stated.

The Aces (18-6) won 12 straight between Dec. 13 through Jan. 16 yet entered Tuesday’s game having lost five of their last nine.

The Patriots (14-10) on the other hand, seemingly had momentum. A 66-63 Dec. 18 loss at Abington put East at 2-4. Since then, East won 12 of 17 starting with Jackman’s 33 points in a 70-47 throttling of North Penn 70-47 on Dec. 20. Just after Christmas, East flew to the Cactus Jam in Phoenix and won two of three.

No. 12 East had a sweet Valentine’s Day, beating No. 21 William Tennent 50-49 in the district first round. Jackman hit a three with just seconds left on the clock for the win. Despite the emotional victory, East felt they were on an even keel traveling down to the Main Line. “I thought we had some good practices and preparation,” Henrysen said. “I thought we were ready to go. Sometimes the ball doesn’t go in and you squeeze a little bit. And it grew.”

Lower Merion advances to play No. 4 Chester. East hosts No. 13 Haverford on Friday in playbacks.

As East left Bryant Gymnasium Tuesday night, at least one player experienced mixed emotions. “The gym is cool and the school is awesome,” said Hamilton, a huge Kobe Bryant fan. “But we didn’t get the result we wanted.”