Marquis Tomlin (above) had 16 points and played key defense as Penncrest advanced to the district semifinals. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Matt Chandik (@MChandik26)
MIDDLETOWN — Marquis Tomlin was still breathing a little heavy some 20 minutes after his Penncrest team cemented a spot in the PIAA Class 5A state tournament with a 43-34 win over rival Strath Haven at Kaufman Gymnasium.
Because of Tomlin, though, the Lions were breathing a lot easier after having to fend off the Panthers for the third time in four meetings this year. With starting guard Saahir Lee out of the lineup due to an injury sustained against Lower Merion, coach Mike Doyle leaned heavily on Tomlin to do, well, just about everything.
The senior guard poured in 13 of his game-high 16 points in the second half and effectively shut off Strath Haven’s main source of offense by limiting Luke Edwards to one field goal and two attempts in the final three quarters. The points are always nice and they were needed Saturday night, but Tomlin has always prided himself on his defensive work, and it was on full display.
“I take pride in that I’m defense first,” Tomlin said. “I was always defense-first when I came to this school my sophomore year, and I transformed into a scorer. Playing defense like that is nothing to me, but Luke is a great player. We’re friends off the court and we talked about this a couple days ago before this, knowing that we’d have to guard each other, and it’s fun.”
Edwards connected on a pair of first-quarter 3-pointers to help the Panthers run out to a 10-7 lead, but Tomlin dialed up the intensity and denied the crafty Strath Haven scorer the ball on so many opportunities. That stymied what the Panthers wanted to do offensively.
“We knew he was feeling it a little bit, so I had to slow him down and not let him get the ball,” Tomlin said. “It’s tough because he uses a lot of screens. He’s not off the dribble. He goes off screens and you have to fight and be tough player so I had to match that intensity.”
“I don’t think I moved to get the ball enough,” said Edwards, who paced the Panthers with 11 points, including three triples. “I should have gotten more screens. In the beginning, I went off a lot of screens and I shot the ball and it went in. In the second half, I didn’t get as many opportunities to get screens, so it was kind of hard to get the ball and shoot.”
The Lions advance to play No. 7 seed Penn Wood, a 69-59 winner over No. 2 Holy Ghost Prep, Wednesday night at 6 at Norristown. Top-seeded West Chester East plays rival No. 5 West Chester Rustin in the nightcap. The Panthers will look to claw back through the playbacks against the Firebirds on Wednesday night.
To say that offense was at a premium for much of the game is an understatement, but that should have been expected after the teams had already played three times this year with the Lions up 2-1 in the series. Trailing 18-11 at the half, Penncrest put together a run highlighted by a 3-pointer from Aidan Carroll after the guard had split a pair of free throws. A couple of possessions later, Jordan Bochanski’s smooth lefty layup gave the Lions a 21-20 advantage. They never trailed again.
The Panthers simply couldn’t connect on their chances, shooting 6-for-27 from the field in the second half, including a 1-for-11 performance in the third quarter that only yielded two points. It was Carroll, too, who essentially put the Panthers’ comeback dreams to rest with a dagger of a 3-pointer from the corner with 2:50 to go, even though Strath Haven’s Matt Shuler (eight points) countered with a tough layup off the glass to trim the deficit to four.
Carroll’s third 3-pointer of the game gave the Lions a boost, but he knew better than to assume that Strath Haven wouldn’t put up a fight in the final minutes.
“They always come back on us,” said Carroll, who finished with 10 points. “Even a couple weeks ago at Lower Merion (in the Central League playoffs), we were up a lot and they came back. Their pressure got to us back then. We made sure it didn’t happen again and I think we handled it well. Every possession counts and we knew it was going to be a dogfight going into it. (Panthers head coach) Chris (Conlan) was our (assistant) coach the past couple years. Coach Doyle knows most of his plays, and it’s the fourth time we’re playing them, which is crazy. Whatever each team does, we know it. It was an awesome environment to play in.”
For the fourth straight year and the fifth time in six years, the Lions will have a chance to compete for a state title. Penncrest has been a model of consistency for public schools, and it’ll have another chance to build on it.
“It’s the just the legacy that Penncrest builds here,” Tomlin said. “I want the young guys to keep this going after Aidan and I leave. Coach Doyle’s a great coach, he puts everyone in the right position to win, and when you have a coach like that, we all succeed off of that. It’s just the winning program that Penncrest is.”
Strath Haven 10 | 8 | 2 | 14 | 34
Penncrest 7 | 4 | 12 | 20 | 43
Strath Haven: 11-43 FG (6-19 3PT), 6-8 FT
Penncrest: 12-31 FG (4-14 3PT), 15-18 FT
Strath Haven: Edwards 11, Shuler 8, Morris 7, Pio 4, Freeman 2, Guilday 2
Penncrest: Tomlin 16, Carroll 10, Atkinson-Boyer 8, Stanton 5, Bochanski 2, Potts 2
District 1 5A Quarterfinals
1) West Chester East 70, 8) Radnor 48
5) West Chester Rustin 62, 4) Unionville 51
7) Penn Wood 69, 2) Holy Ghost Prep 59
3) Penncrest 43, 6) Strath Haven 34
District 1 5A Semifinals (Feb. 26 @ Norristown)
3) Penncrest vs. 7) Penn Wood (6 PM)
1) WC East vs. 5) WC Rustin (7:30 PM)
District 1 5A Playbacks (Feb. 26 @ Higher Seeds)
4) Unionville vs. 8) Radnor (7 PM)
2) Holy Ghost vs. 6) Strath Haven (7 PM)