Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
After graduating an 11-man 2019 class that had made up the majority of the varsity roster –– and production –– for the last four seasons, Lower Merion certainly has a new look. But the Aces are just as dangerous, as they proved on Tuesday night as they welcomed one of the other Central League front-runners to the Bryant Gymnasium, took a good shot from Garnet Valley and bounced back for a 69-58 win.
Keep an eye out on Wednesday for a feature story on the Aces and their massive project of adjusting and learning, but in the meanwhile, here’s a report about their win and some notes and stats on two teams which look primed to make a run at a league title in a couple months, as well as a photo gallery down below.
–– There’s no missing the Aces’ biggest new addition, literally. At 6-foot-9 and 250 pounds, sophomore forward Demetrius Lilley is the first big-time post player since Darryl Reynolds graduated in 2012, and he’s bigger than Reynolds. Garnet Valley did a decent job on the impressive young post player early on, but LIlley’s size was too much for the Jaguars; I had him with 19 points and 21 rebounds, the Aces’ staff had him for 23 boards. Either way, it was a massive night on the glass for Lilley, who was 8-of-18 from the floor and 3-of-4 from the foul line, with a number of his misses eventually finding the hoop on second or third-chance efforts.
Lilley certainly isn’t a skinny or scrawny big man, but he’s not overly large, either; if he continues to refine his body over the next three years, he’s going to be a serious problem. Lilley, who plays for DC Premier on the Under Armour circuit, picked up an offer from Texas A&M this fall and has also been on Maryland’s campus, but he’ll have to continue working on his body and game if he wants to have those offers still around in a couple years. He’s not a polished product yet, but the upside is certainly there, and he’ll be a highly-productive big man for the Aces.
–– Another newcomer who looks like he’ll be a major part of the Lower Merion program for the foreseeable future is freshman guard Sam Brown. The 6-2 left-hander is a 3-point specialist, letting it fly 11 times from deep without attempting a two-point shot, but he connected on five of those attempts. Brown’s got range and moxie, hitting a few deep step-backs, but also worked off screens and had some catch-and-shoot knockdowns; he also was 4-of-4 from the foul line. Yes, Brown is the son of Sixers coach Brett Brown, but that’s definitely not why he’s playing. Look for him to be on Division I radars sooner rather than later.
–– Garnet Valley has a strong pair of junior guards in Carl Schaller and Neel Beniwal. Schaller, a 5-8 point guard with the ball on a string, had a team-high 25 points on 9-of-21 shooting, and he proved to be a tough guard who could hit mid-range pull-ups with ease; he also added five assists. Beniwal, a lanky 6-3 shooting guard, knocked down three shots from deep (on six attempts) to help him to 13 points, picking up six rebounds and three steals.
With former program stalwarts like Austin Laughlin (Kutztown) and Greg Vlassopoulos (Rowan) now playing in college, Schaller and Beniwal represent the present and future of the team, along with classmate Gannon McKie. Those three combined for 48 of their team’s 56 points, including all six of its 3-pointers. McKie stands 6-5 and has a nice-looking stroke, picking up 10 points and hitting 2-of-5 from deep, with seven rebounds and a pair of blocks. There will be a host of small-college types checking out the Jaguars the next two years for that trio.
–– Lower Merion senior Eli Rothman saw a little bit of time as a sophomore the last time I saw him play, but he was generally stuck behind that massive 2019 class for minutes and shots. So when Rothman did get into the games, he was often only a 3-point specialist, and not often used in that role. But Rothman has made big strides in his game since his sophomore year, and the 6-0 guard was a very effective 6th man for Lower Merion in the win. Rothman was third on the team in scoring (11 points) with five rebounds, and all three of his made shots were on takes to the rim, not 3-pointers.
–– The Aces were without the services of one of their best players, senior guard James Simples, due to illness.
LM: 25-of-53 FG, 7-of-22 3PT, 12-of-17 FT
GV: 22-of-54 FG, 6-of-22 3PT, 6-of-10 FT
LM: Brown 19, Lilley 19, Rothman 11, Gribben 8, Shippen 5, Chestnut 4, Bard 3
GV: Schaller 25, Beniwal 13, McKie 10, Apostolopoulous 4, Coyne 2, Louden 2
Score by Quarter
LM: 15 | 14 | 22 | 18 | 69
GV: 16 | 18 | 13 | 9 | 56
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