Undermanned. Undersized. Underdogs.
That seemed like a fair assessment of the Aces heading into their match-up against William Allen on Sunday in Allentown. But none of it seemed to matter as a youthful LM squad shook off the Canaries' high-flying attack and a hostile Allen crowd to force overtime against the state's 2nd-ranked 6A team. Though the Aces were on the wrong side of the final (50-43) score, the result was encouraging and the message clear: the kids are growing up.
LM set the tone early and dictated tempo throughout with a methodical, ball-control offense and stingy half-court defense. LM held the Canaries -- one of the highest-scoring teams in the state -- to a season-low 17 first-half points, with just two coming from their two Division 1 signees. The home crowd voiced their displeasure with LM's style of play, which minimized highlights, but kept things tight ? punctuated by a Terrell Jones' 17 trey just before the halftime buzzer that pulled the Aces within one at 17-16.
Allen had a chance to pounce early in the third as they scored the first six points of the quarter and held LM scoreless for four minutes. But the Aces didn't panic and the lead never grew to more than nine points. At the end of the third LM trailed 27-20.
An anxious Allen squad tried to put the Aces away in the fourth with more aggressive defense and briefly extended the lead to nine, but the Aces stayed composed and chipped away. Driving layups by Jones, Darryl Taylor ?19 and Noah Fennell ?17 and strong foul shooting by Steve Payne ?19 and Matt O?Connor ?19 put the Aces in striking distance. Defensively, the Aces forced five Allen turnovers in the period.
LM finally tied the game at 35-35 on a Jones three-ball with less than 40 seconds to play in regulation. LM?s defense held on Allen?s final possession, forcing the extra frame.
With the game still tied at the 3:01 mark of overtime, the Aces had a golden opportunity to take their first lead of the second half. But LM couldn?t convert and Allen scored an and-one layup on the other end. It would be enough to build a cushion that the Aces could not overcome. Allen made enough free-throws down the stretch to keep the Aces at bay.
There are no ?good? losses, but this was one that showed promise. The Aces have never shied away from tough competition; hopefully, a battle like the one on Sunday will help prepare a roster chockful of underclassmen for the months and years ahead.