The Aces stepped up on a big stage against one of the area's top-ranked teams to earn their most impressive win of the season to date. Senior Darryl Reynolds scored a career-high 18 points, collected 12 rebounds and took home a game MVP trophy, leading LM to a 71-61 victory over St. Joseph's Prep at the Jameer Nelson Classic at Widener University.
The game had a must-win feel as the Aces were determined to end 2011 on a positive note following a tough loss to Emmaus on Wednesday. After Prep scored the first bucket of the game, LM reeled off a 17-6 run, punctuated by two treys from junior BJ Johnson (15 points, 5 rebounds). The Aces extended their lead to as many as 14 points in the 2nd frame, holding the high-flying Hawks to just 8 points in the quarter. LM focused much of their defensive attention on talented Hawks guard Steve Vasturia, limiting the Notre Dame-bound junior to just two first half points.
Meanwhile, the Aces controlled the offensive glass and did much of their damage near the rim. LM scored off putbacks on three consecutive second quarter possessions -- including two by Raheem Hall '13 (14 points) -- and pounded the ball inside to the 6'7" Reynolds. LM also got out in transition, with Johnson delivering to Yohanny Dalembert '14 on the break for a thunderous dunk that sent the Widener crowd into a frenzy. At halftime, the Aces led 39-26 and looked to have control of the game.
But the Hawks, ranked #3 in the city, would not go quietly.
Behind the strong play of Vasturia, the Prep narrowed the gap to eight points at the end of the third. They continued to chip away in the fourth, drawing within one point at the 3:59 mark on a deep trey by Vasturia. For the Aces, it was gut check time. Looking to erase the bad taste of earlier close losses to Roman Catholic and Emmaus, the Aces came up clutch, with multiple players doing their part down the stretch.
First came a dazzling drive and lay-up from Mike Robbins '12 (8 points), who was a defensive menace all night. Then, came a steal by Jaquan Johnson '14 (7 points, 4 assists, 2 steals), who was fouled and calmly knocked down two bonus fee throws. After another Prep three, Hall used a quick spin move to get to the rim for a deuce. Next, Justin McFadden '14 (7 points) drew the first of two charges in three subsequent Prep offensive possessions. McFadden also buried two bonus free throws in the closing minutes and finished 5-6 from the line for the game. After a Prep score, Hall drove and dished to Reynolds for a dunk.
With Reynolds protecting the hoop and securing the defensive glass, the Aces simply had to make free throws to secure the victory. LM converted 8-12 tries from the line to seal the final margin. LM finished 21-30 at the charity stripe for the game.
It was a terrific, team effort for the Maroon & White who pushed their record to 7-2 and showed they could have success against a highly-rated opponent. More importantly, the Aces did the little things that matter in crunch time -- taking charges, making the extra pass, taking care of the basketball, knocking down bonus free throws -- that have been the hallmarks of great Aces teams. Whether this year's unit is able to do so over the long haul remains to be seen, but Friday's game was a clear step in the right direction.
Lower Merion 25 14 12 20 – 71
St. Joseph's Prep 18 8 16 19 – 61
LM: JaQuan Johnson 7, Mike Robbins 8, Justin McFadden 7, Darryl Reynolds 18, Raheem Hall 14, B.J. Johnson 15, Yohanny Dalembert 2.
SJP: Steve Vasturia 17, Kevin Oberlies 12, Gene Williams 4, Tom Stewart 3, Kyle Thompson 2, P.J. Kelly 5, Miles Overton 18.