Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
DEVON -- When Carson Howard made the choice to leave Lacey Twp. (N.J.) and crossed the river to enroll at Archbishop Wood, he did so eagerly awaiting the Catholic League gauntlet.
A packed and rocking Devon Prep gym on a Friday night in January was exactly what the junior forward had in mind. Two programs with early momentum in the toughest league in the state doing battle, the atmosphere to match, the gym loaded and ready by the midway point of the junior varsity game — and throw Senior Night on top of it, like sprinkles on a sundae.
Carson Howard (above) had a big double-double as Wood beat Devon Prep on Friday. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
“I was looking for great competition and it’s here in the PCL,” Howard said. “It’s just a great atmosphere here and I’m happy to be here.”
Wood’s happy to have him. The most important games of the 2021-22 season are still very much yet to be played for the defending Catholic League champions, but Howard’s showing his worth.
The 6-foot-7, 220-pound junior forward was the difference-maker for the Vikings on Friday, popping in 17 points and grabbing 15 rebounds in Wood’s 71-61 win. It was a wild affair from start to finish, the visitors jumping out to a huge lead and then holding on late, despite losing one of their leaders to a questionable foul situation.
A Devon Prep squad without a starter over 6-4 struggled all game long to stop Howard from establishing position inside, where he could stick back misses or catch and finish lobs with a clear look at the rim.
“We came in with a game plan to take advantage of that size disadvantage,” he said. “I really hit the glass, especially offensively, and used my length and athleticism to get those boards.”
The Vikings (7-3, 3-0 PCL) jumped out to a 5-0 lead, then after an IV Pettit layup, scored the next 15, holding the Tide scoreless from the five-minute mark of the first quarter until just about the same time in the second, the scoreboard reading 20-2 in the visitors’ favor.
Howard had a couple layups in the first quarter, though he also missed four others; he got more comfortable as the game went on, finishing 7-of-12 from the floor and 3-of-6 from the foul line, getting at least one bucket in each quarter.
“We knew he’d be dominant on the boards, he’s just got to finish better,” Wood coach John Mosco said. “We could have gotten out of here earlier if he finished some of his layups.”
Mosco, who guided the Vikings to the 2017 and 2021 PCL titles, has worked with several Division I post players in his coaching tenure, including 2018 grad Seth Pinkney (Florida International). Howard doesn’t have quite the defensive length of Pinkney, a 7-footer with an even longer wingspan, but he’s a solid two-way interior presence, knowing what he is and playing to his strengths.
Howard (left) proved to be a sizeable deterrent in the paint for an undersized Devon Prep. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
“He’s a banger,” Mosco said. “The league’s not big, so he’s able to move his feet, guard the ball, he’s good at hedging on screens, so that’s one of his biggest assets. He’s just got to learn to finish and get better around the basket. And he can shoot the ball, but he doesn’t want to pick-and-pop all the time.”
Howard, who said he was 6-5 by his middle school years and grew to his current height his freshman year of high school, is hoping to be the third Division I prospect in his family, following sisters Chelsea and Kailee, who play softball at Binghamton and Rutgers, respectively.
In addition to making the move to the Catholic League last offseason, Howard also stepped up on the summer circuit, playing with Nike-backed Team Final for the first time on the Elite Youth Basketball League. Even in an abbreviated EYBL season, Howard still had the opportunity to play with and against some of the top prospects in the country.
“Playing with Team Final was amazing,” he said. “The competition in the EYBL is unmatched. I’m looking forward to it this spring.”
Howard’s father, Ray, played football at D-II Lock Haven; like his father, Howard wants to continue his athletic career at the next level. He already has one Division I scholarship, from Saint Peter’s, and said he’s talking to some Patriot League schools as well.
“I’m looking to play Division I basketball and that’s my goal for myself,” he said. Playing the best competition and developing as a player is really important for me to get to that next level.”
One of Howard’s D-I bound teammates, senior guard Justin Moore (Drexel), helped Wood close strong after Devon Prep (8-2, 2-1) battled back to within single digits multiple times in the late third and early fourth quarter.
The 6-2 point guard scored 11 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter before he was whistled for a technical foul after pushing a Devon Prep player on an inbounds play; the scorebook said Moore already had four fouls, though the Wood staff protested and said Moore only had three.
With Moore — who also had five assists, two blocks and two rebounds — on the sidelines, Devon Prep got within four points on a 3-pointer by Lucas Orchard with a minute to play. Orchard, a 6-4 junior wing, was fantastic in the second half, scoring 17 of his game-high 22 points after halftime, including three and-ones and two treys to pull the Tide back into it.
“He can shoot the ball and they look for him and they run a lot of stuff for him,” Mosco said. “A couple times we lost him on the screens when we were switching and we wanted to double and they didn’t double. He shoots the ball well. Second half, I think they adjusted and knew we were staying with the shooters so they were attacking to go finish.”
Lucas Orchard (above) had 17 of his 22 points in the second half to help Devon Prep close an 18-point gap to four. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Pettit finished with 18 points and four rebounds, while junior wing Jacen Holloway, who hit three second half 3-pointers to rally the crowd, finished with 13 points and six rebounds.
Seniors Tyson Allen (12 points, six rebounds) and Mike Knouse (10 points, five rebounds) finished four players in double figures for Wood, which got contributions all over the board; junior wing Bahsil Laster contributed five points, six rebounds and four assists while while sophomores Josh Reed (6 points, six rebounds, four steals, three assists) and Jalil Bethea (6 points) were productive off the bench.
It’s a brand-new starting group for Wood, which has yet to miss a beat, already beating Roman Catholic and setting the tone as one of the PCL’s best yet again.
“They just play their hearts out, they give everything,” Mosco said. “A few people are telling me we lost 4,000 points in scoring, we did lose a lot. Huck [Palmer] sent me a stat, every offensive category was like 90% or more that we lost. But the guys stepped up.”
Wood is now one of two 3-0 teams in the PCL, along with West Catholic, though those two aren’t scheduled to meet until Feb. 11; Neumann-Goretti (1-0) is the only other unbeaten, though they’re on a COVID pause that wiped out Sunday’s scheduled matchup between the Saints and Vikings. Instead, Wood will play at Father Judge next Friday in its next matchup, pitting Mosco against former assistant Chris Roantree, in his first year guiding the Crusaders.
Still remaining in the regular-season are key matchups against Ryan (Jan. 24), Carroll (Jan. 26), La Salle (Feb. 4) and more, all of which will be crucial if Wood wants to secure a top-four seed and as easy a road as possible to the league semifinals and championship rounds.
“We’re having good success so far and our goal is to win in the Palestra,” Howard said. “We’re looking like we have a good track right now.”
Wood: 15 | 12 | 17 | 27 || 71
Devon: 8 | 13 | 18 | 28 || 61
Wood: 24-52 FG (4-21 3PT), 19-25 FT
Devon: 20-54 FG (7-26 3PT), 14-16 FT
Wood: Carson Howard 17, Justin Moore 15, Tyson Allen 12, Mike Knouse 10, Josh Reed 6, Jalil Bethea 6, Bahsil Laster 5
Devon: Lucas Orchard 22, IV Pettit 18, Jacen Holloway 13, Ty Mishock 6, Tyler Scarpulla 2