The Aces battled all season in the Bryant Gymnasium for the chance to compete on a bigger stage. On Friday, they earned that opportunity.
LM played tough, together and hungry in a 73-63 win over a talented Coatesville squad and notched a return trip to the District 1 semifinals at Temple University.
A driving dunk from BJ Johnson '13 on the Aces' first possession set the tone and fueled a 21-7 run the Red Raiders could never overcome. Coatesville battled gamely, but the Aces put the clamps on to seal the final outcome.
In many ways, Friday night's contest was an important and necessary test for the Maroon & White. After beating two Central League teams in the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Aces were facing their first non-league opponent since last month's Burger King Classic in Erie. Coatesville -- deep and athletic -- arrived as one of the District's hottest teams, winning 19 of their last 20 games and riding an 11-game winning streak. Led by Saint Peter's signee Howard Sellars, the Red Raiders roster also includes a bevy of players from Coatesville's state finalist football squad.
With an overflow crowd of more than 1800 fans cramming every corner of the KBG, and a trip to the District Final Four on the line, the stage was set for a raucous, action-packed evening of high intensity playoff basketball.
The Aces proved to be ready for the moment, seizing control of the game at the outset and playing with poise and purpose throughout. After Coatesville had narrowed the gap to four points late in the second, the Aces forced three straight turnovers and converted at the other end to lead 42-32 at halftime. LM exploded out of the gates in the third quarter, surging to a 51-33 lead. Once again, the Red Raiders chipped away, pulling within ten by the end of the frame. That momentum continued early in the fourth, as Coatesville used an 8-3 run capped by a Sellars jumper to get as close as five.
But the battle-tested Aces stayed the course. On the ensuing possession, Raheem Hall '13 drove to the hoop and was fouled for a conventional three-point play. LM forced two straight turnovers on the defensive end to spring Johnson for layups. Suddenly, the Aces were in the midst of a 9-1 run that finally put the game out of reach.
Hall's drive was definitive, but it was one of a number of plays that illustrated LM's resolve. During a mad scramble for a rebound on the Aces' previous offensive possession, Justin McFadden '14 somehow muscled the ball away from a swarm of Red Raiders and was fouled to earn a trip to the line. The message was clear: it may not always be pretty, but few teams are going to outwork this Aces bunch.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, the Aces faithful roared in approval. The Dawg Pound made their way to the floor for an impromptu victory dance -- a celebratory send-off to a team that has earned the right to go places.
Johnson led all scorers with 22 points. Hall had 20 points and 12 rebounds and helped limit Sellars to six points. JaQuan Johnson '14 add 16, including nine during the Aces' decisive first-half run.
Next up for the Aces (24-2) is a match-up with #3 Great Valley (26-1), 41-38 winners over Methacton. Tip-off is 6 PM Tuesday night at Temple's Liacouras Center. Tickets are $10 and will go on sale beginning Monday at 9 AM in the LMHS athletic office.
LM: 23 19 16 15 – 73
C: 12 20 16 15 – 63
LM: Justin McFadden 4, Jaquan Johnson 16, Raheem Hall 20, Yohanny Dalembert 5, B.J. Johnson 22, Baird Howland 1, Corey Sherman 5.