On a night of extraordinary emotion, in the program's darkest and most trying of times, the Aces honored a fallen brother and his family with a hard-fought, refuse-to-lose road victory. Demetrius Lilley '22 and Sam Brown '23 combined for four straight free throws in the final minute to lift the Aces to a 48-44 win over Upper Darby.
Prior to tip-off, Upper Darby paid tribute to Kobe Bryant and the Aces with a heartfelt statement of appreciation and solidarity celebrating Kobe's local and global legacy. A sold out crowd then paused for a 33-second moment of silence before the opening tip.
When play began, the Aces — playing short-handed with two key players sidelined — jumped to an early 10-3 lead. But the Royals battled back and the contest turned into a feisty, back and forth affair befitting the occasion with big shots and hard-nosed play from both squads.
The Royals took a four-point lead into halftime, but the Aces quickly erased the deficit in the third, surging to a nine point advantage -- their largest of the game — midway through the period. Upper Darby again answered, chipping away at the Aces lead in the final quarter. But LM's defense held strong in the closing minutes and the Aces never relinquished the lead. After the Royals tied the game at 44-44 on a driving layup at the :54 mark, Lilley was fouled and converted at the line. Another LM stop led to the game-clinching foul shots by Brown.
Following the game, alumni, family and community members gathered to greet the team on the way back to the locker room. Once inside, the floodgates opened as players and coaches shared a long, tearful embrace.
In a fitting coincidence, the teams' combined points (92) recalled the year that Kobe began his career as an Ace (1992). The Aces proved in what has understandably felt like the untimely end of an era that their heartbeat remains strong.