Ty Daubert (@TyDaubert)
WESTTOWN — Two years removed from its last playoff tournament, one thing still remains clear: the Friends Schools League runs through Westtown.
The Moose have won the past seven Friends League titles, dating back to 2014. After the pandemic took away last season’s full league schedule and the FSL postseason, Dereck Lively II and company are back to prove that they are once again the team to beat in 2021-2022, though the league’s the deepest it’s been in a long time.
“It’s really just setting the tone for the other schools,” Lively said, “showing that just because the years have changed, it doesn’t mean (anything) at Westtown is going to change. We’re here to dominate, and we’re here to win — it’s that simple.”
Quin Berger (above) had 39 points as Westtown held off ANC to stay unbeaten in the FSL. (Photo: Ty Daubert/CoBL)
Westtown (15-6, 5-0) showed just how little has changed on Thursday night as it downed Academy New Church 77-68 in a key Friends League matchup at Coach Downey Court.
The Lions (9-5, 3-1) gave the Moose a run for their money in the most recent FSL championship game in 2020, and Kevin Givens’ squad battled again in this meeting. Ultimately, the talent-packed Westtown squad prevailed the night after Lively was named the No. 1 senior recruit in the nation by ESPN.
“I really think today was a great game for us,” the 7-foot-1 center said. “We really showed that we can battle through tough defense and tough pressing.”
While he played a big role, it took more than the Duke-bound Lively to handle ANC’s competition. As Penn State commit Jameel Brown dealt with foul trouble, senior guard Quin Berger broke out on the offensive end all game, going off for 39 points and topping a previous career high of 26. Berger made five 3-pointers and went 14-16 from the foul line to provide Westtown with the offense required to mitigate each Lions push.
Down guard Deywilk Tavarez, ANC’s Anthony McCall and Elmarko Jackson, who scored 26 and 14 points, respectively, carried most of the load. The Lions jumped out to a 5-0 start on their way to a 14-10 lead after the first quarter, but Westtown responded in the second with the help of back-to-back, momentum-swinging putback dunks from Seyphon Triplett to go ahead 39-30 at half.
The Moose went on a run at the end of the third quarter to go up 12, but McCall banked in a half-court prayer at the buzzer to keep it a nine-point game with eight minutes to go. ANC entered the fourth with some juice, cutting the deficit to as few as three points after an Isaiah Milien triple with six minutes to go.
From there, Berger continued his takeover to extend Westtown’s lead and complete the win. Even after a career night, he downplayed his individual impact and credited his teammates for their performances.
“It’s all five-on-five,” Berger said. “They’re a great team. We had a great game, and it was a great all-around win.”
Seth Berger (above, center) directs Westtown during a timeout. (Photo: Ty Daubert/CoBL)
Westtown did get contributions from all members of its lineup to help secure the victory. In addition to Berger’s explosion, Triplett added 14 points and Matt Mayock had a dunk and a late trey. The pieces surrounding Lively help make this Moose team so dynamic and difficult to stop.
“I think we’ve got a really talented first five,” said head coach Seth Berger, Quin’s father. “We have five very talented Division I basketball players, all who do very different things. So from a matchup perspective, their talent makes it easy for us as coaches to find ways for them to score.”
Of course, having Lively as the centerpiece lets the whole work. The versatile big stepped aside a bit on offense Thursday as Quin Berger took over, focusing on being the team’s defensive anchor. Lively still recorded 12 points with three big putback dunks and a 3-pointer as the Moose pulled away in the fourth.
His willingness to not only get his teammates involved, but help them thrive paired with his immense talent bring Westtown to another level at its best.
“It all comes down to Dereck,” Quin Berger said. “We’re so lucky to have Dereck. Dereck has every reason to be as selfish as he wants, and he’s the most selfless person I know.”
When Westtown is rolling, not many teams can compare. In the Friends League, ANC figures to be one of two teams, along with George School, that have the best shot. The Lions have the talent to make things tough on the Moose, as they showed Thursday, and the tandem of guard Christian Bliss and big man Kachi Nzeh make George School a threat as well. The path to the FSL championship is not as clear as it was in previous years.
“This year, we have a challenging league and a challenging state,” Seth Berger said. “In the Friends League this year, unless something crazy happens, I think ANC, George and Westtown are all capable of winning the Friends League title. I think you got as many as eight teams that are capable of winning the state title. This has been the toughest year in league and state since I’ve been coaching.”
Given the history and what the team just displayed, Westtown is still the top dog in the FSL, and opponents will be eager to take the Moose down. There are certainly more obstacles in the league this season, but the talent at Westtown is still a step above the rest. If it can keep the full team buy-in, the team should be the last one standing in the Friends League once again.
“We know that everyone’s going to have a target on our back — and on my back,” Lively said. “So I know that I’m going to be able to rely on my teammates and my teammates can rely on me. That’s all we need to do.”
Academy New Church: 14 | 16 | 14 | 24 || 68
Westtown School: 10 | 29 | 14 | 24 || 77
Academy New Church: Anthony McCall 26, Elmarko Jackson 14, Isaiah Milien 14, Gabe Harris 12, Jarell Keel 2
Westtown: Quin Berger 39, Seyphon Triplett 14, Dereck Lively II 12, Jameel Brown 5, Matt Mayock 5, Wade Chiddick 2