Justin Gans (above) hit two crucial 3-pointers to help power Bonner past Conwell-Egan in the PCL first round. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Rich Flanagan (@richflanagan33)
Justin Gans plays on a veteran Bonner-Prendergast team and on most nights plays a secondary role.
He has no problem in letting the senior backcourt of Christian Lane and Tymir Cooper control the offensive pace on the perimeter or allowing junior center Ajiri Johnson to dominate the painted area. He finds his way throughout the course of the game and makes plays when he’s asked to.
Playing against Conwell-Egan in the Philadelphia Catholic League playoffs for the second straight year, he knew they would be looking for revenge and he wanted to make that didn’t happen,
Gans scored 12 points and added three rebounds to help Bonner-Prendergast down Conwell-Egan, 65-51 in the first round of the PCL playoffs for the second year in a row.
The 6-foot-2, 160-pound combo guard hit his first shot of the game, a three-pointer from the top of the key, just before the halftime buzzer to give the Friars a 23-21 going into the break. He took the momentum from that first shot into the third quarter to help spearhead Bonner-Prendergast’s 15-5 run. He hit a shot in the lane to give the Friars a three-point advantage and later in the quarter he scored five straight, including his second three-pointer, to push the lead to 40-26 at the 4:11 mark.
Gans expected Conwell-Egan (9-13) to come out with a chip on its shoulder but he knew he and his team could weather the storm.
“We knew that we had beaten them on a buzzer-beater last year. We knew they wanted revenge so we had to come out strong and get the win,” Gans said. “We know that we can rely on each other. We hold each other accountable.”
Gans, a first-year starter as a senior, is one of several veteran players on head coach Jack Concannon’s Friars who contributed to the victory over the Eagles.
Christian Lane (above) had 13 points and seven assists in the win. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Lane scored 13 points in the second half to go along with seven assists. Senior forward Dylan Higgins had four turnovers but also posted 10 points and a game-high nine rebounds including a baseline jumper in the second quarter, just before Gans buzzer-beating trey.
Cooper had two separate occasions in the game where he recorded a steal and turned it into a layup at the other end, the latter of which gave Bonner-Prendergast (16-7) a 33-26 lead with 4:11 left in the third quarter. While Cooper’s steals and layups were not as big as Lane’s single steal and game-winner against the Eagles last year, they were still integral as the Friars posted seven steals as a team.
Concannon appreciates nights when the senior leadership of his team takes over and he’s more of a spectator than a coach.
“We have five seniors who play a decent amount. I don’t want to have coach every pass or play,” Concannon said. “We have written on the board [in the locker room:] easy baskets [whether] it’s in transition or off of the defense with steals. Theoretically, that’s how it’s supposed to work when you have seniors.”
Conwell-Egan ran out to a 14-10 victory after the first quarter but really let things slip away in the third. They were outscored 20-13 in the third and their go-to scorer, Patrick Robinson, only scored four points in the second half. Eric Kindler’s Eagles were led by Darien Simmons, who had 16 points including five straight to open the fourth quarter that cut the lead to 45-39 but that’s close as they would get.
Kindler believed his team would get back into it when Johnson went to the bench in the third with three fouls but they failed to capitalize with the big man out of the game.
“We started out great in the first quarter, scored like we needed to and had them where they needed to be. Unfortunately, we struggled and with Johnson on the bench we had to assert ourselves on the inside,” the first-year head coach said. “We failed to do that with him on the bench and that’s where we look to attack. It went the other way on us.”
Bonner-Prendergast advances to play Archbishop Wood, the PCL’s top seed, on Friday night. The Friars fell to the Vikings 62-44 on Jan. 13. Even with a group of primarily juniors and seniors, Gans knows emotions can get the best of a team but stressed what they’re going to need to do even before their game with the Vikings begins in order to reach their ultimate goal.
“We have to play hard and act like we belong. We can’t come out scared. We all have faith and our number one goal is the Palestra,” Gans said.