By Joseph Santoliquito (@JSantoliquito)
AMBLER — Horace Simmons is playing with a free mind. The talented, La Salle College High School 6-foot-7 senior forward announced his commitment in August and signed his national letter of intent last month to Drexel. He no longer has to play with the feeling someone is watching and breaking down everything he does.
That liberating feeling is translating early to the kind of games Simmons had Saturday night in leading the Explorers to a 49-37 victory over Norristown in the championship of the Triangle Club 48th Annual Tip-Off Tournament at Wissahickon High School.
Drexel commit Horace Simmons had 21 points to help La Salle to a Triangle Club title on Saturday. (Photo: Joseph Santoliquito/CoBL)
In being named MVP of the tournament, Simmons led all scorers with 21 points, bolting out to score 9 of the Explorers’ first 11 points and 17 of their 27 points by halftime in getting La Salle out to a 2-0 start this season. That followed up a 17-point, 10-rebound effort in a win over Germantown Academy on Friday.
“I think committing to Drexel early has helped me, because the whole recruitment process was a lot, so to know where you’re going, not having your phone blowing up all the time, and not having eyes on you is good,” Simmons said. “I feel like I’m playing a lot more confident than I did this time last year. There were times last year when I was playing kind of passive. I want to play a lot more aggressive this year, and we’re a younger group.”
Simmons was not only impressive offensively; he was a force defensively. He batted away four shots, grabbed eight rebounds and made 6 of 14 shots, cooling down after making five of seven in the first half.
“I feel that for us to be successful, we have to play successful both ways,” Simmons said. “It starts with energy first on defense, trying to speed them up, which leads to good things on offense. I felt we picked up the energy on defense, and I had to pick up.
“We can be as good as we want to, and we can’t think too far ahead. But you always want to shoot for the stars.”
At the hub will be Simmons.
La Salle coach Mike McKee liked quite a bit of what he saw from his team, which started sophomores Kasey Fleming and Ryan Warren. The mix of experience and youth is coming together quickly.
Having a happy star helps merge that.
“Drexel is a great situation for Horace and it’s a great academic school, but Horace could have played anywhere in the Atlantic 10,” McKee said. “Against Neumann-Goretti in the Catholic League playoffs last year, Horace had 16 rebounds. He’s taking more of a leadership role this year, doing everything, rebounding, defending, and he’s up to the challenge. Horace is learning how to make his teammates better, and he’s definitely a two-way player who’s only going to get better.”
The La Salle College boys basketball poses with the Triangle Club Tournament trophy after defeating Norristown on Saturday. (Photo: Joseph Santoliquito/CoBL)
As for the game, Norristown (1-1) bolted out to a 5-0 lead, and La Salle answered by scoring the next nine points and never trailed again. Much of that came on the shoulders of Simmons. The Explorers were up by as much as 25-7 with 2:41 left in the half, when Norristown went scoreless for an 8-minute, 3-second stretch that covered the latter portion of the first quarter and deep into the second.
But the Eagles found some rhythm in the second half, at one time climbing to within 29-25, on a three-pointer by junior guard Myon Kirlew, Norristown’s leading scorer who finished with a team-high 14. Within striking distance, Norristown went cold again, drifting behind 37-27 early in the fourth quarter and never getting that close again.
“I learned that we have a little fight in us, but I also found out we have a lot of growing up to do,” Norristown coach Rick Bell said. “With a lot of reps in practice, we’ll get what we need to get. Offensively, we have to get better. We have what we call our three Ps, patience, poise and pace. Once we figure that out, we’ll be fine.
“We played a very seasoned team and we learned a lot tonight. We’ll watch some film and get better.”
In the semifinal, Germantown Academy (1-1) got by Wissahickon, 61-57, thanks to sophomore captain Bryce Rollerson’s clutch four free throws made in the last 34 seconds of the game. Rollerson finished with a game-high 25, while the Trojans were led by senior Jaylon Williams’ 23, including a big trey in the final minute that brought Wissahickon to within three.
But it was Rollerson who answered, nailing a pair of free throws with 34 left in the game, and again hitting both foul shots with 13 seconds left.
“Bryce started last year and he was named a captain as a sophomore, and he’s very calm, he’s poised and he’s a gym rat,” said GA coach Mike Dolan, whose team lost 48-44 to La Salle on Friday night. “We had eight seniors last year, and when you graduate that large of a group, you have a different group. We’re predominately sophomores. It’s really hard to win at the high school, college and professional level. You have to learn how to win.
“I thought we got stops when we really needed them. We get three stops in a row. You build off that momentum and you have a victory built off that momentum, and defense, and you start to build a winning streak.”
Norristown (1-1): 7 | 5 | 15 | 10 || 37
La Salle (2-0): 11 | 16 | 8 | 14 || 49
Norristown: Myon Kirlew 14, Jayden Byrd 8, Andre Gordon 7, Jonathan Brooks 6, Jaden Wise 2.
La Salle: Horace Simmons 21, Joe Shields 7, Ryan Sorge 6, James Bartchack 4, Nick Parisi 3, Hayes Altomare 3, Kasey Fleming 2, Tim Jennings 2, Liam Hawley 1.
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who began writing for CoBL in 2021 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here.