Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
WYNNEWOOD — It was late in the third quarter that the Friends’ Central cheerleaders came up with their most relevant chant of the game: “You can’t run with us,” they said, and they were right.
George School’s girls might have had the size advantage on FCS, with a frontcourt that went 6-foot-5, 6-3 and 6-2, but the hosts had the edge in the speed category, and they put it to good use. With senior guard Sana’a Garrett leading a high-pressure Phoenix defense and fast-break, Friends’ Central ran away from George for a 58-33 win on Tuesday afternoon in the first game of a girl-boy doubleheader.
Sana'a Garrett (above) had 12 of her game-high 19 points in the fourth quarter. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
“(The chat) was a little fitting,” Friends’ Central coach Vinny Simpson said. “I want to run, that’s my goal. I think we’re a little bit more athletic than them, we can get up and down the court more, and we can run faster.”
Garrett, the Phoenix’s 5-8 senior guard, led the way with 19 points, the quick-footed point guard proving to be a pest for George School on both ends of the floor. Guarding the Cougars’ ball-handlers all night long, she forced seven steals, dished out four assists and grabbed four boards to complement her scoring total.
She was especially strong in the fourth quarter, coming up with 12 points in the final frame, getting to the bucket off the bounce and in transition and finishing with ease. It was during that fourth quarter that the Phoenix slammed the door shut (20-6) after going up one after one quarter, nine at halftime (30-21) and 11 going into the final frame (38-27).
“I tell her, ‘don’t worry about your stuff in the beginning of the game,’” Simpson said of his star senior point guard. “‘Set these girls up, let them focus on what the other girls are going to do, then at the end when they fall asleep, you’re the point guard, you’ve got to attack. You’re going to play the most out of anybody, so I need you to be a closer.’”
Joining Garrett in double figures was sophomore Logyn Greer, the 6-4 high-major prospect finishing with 17 points, including a pair of 3-pointers, going 5-of-6 from the line as she displayed her touch, with seven rebounds, two blocks, two steals and two assists; sophomore guard Nal’la Bennett added 11 points, including a trio of 3-pointers.
It was the fifth win in a row for Friends’ Central (16-3, 3-0), the only team that’s won its first three league games. The Phoenix’s only losses have been to strong programs in Penn Charter, Blair Academy (N.J.) and DeSoto (Tex.), but they’ve handled everybody else in their path.
“They’re playing together,” Simpson said. “They’re happy, they’re playing together, they’re accepting responsibility, taking accountability of each other, they’re holding each other accountable, they’re holding me accountable, I’m just loving what they’re doing.”
To keep it rolling, they have to do so on the road, playing at Shipley (Jan. 17) and Westtown (Jan. 20) next week, the latter of which will be one of the major clashes in the FSL regular season.
George School (8-8, 1-2) got 10 points each from junior guard Sophia Martinez, who also had five steals and three rebounds, and sophomore forward Priyanka Ponnam, who grabbed seven rebounds. They return home for the next two league contests, against Moorestown Friends (Jan. 13) and Germantown Friends (Jan. 17).
Friends’ Central: 10 | 20 | 8 | 20 || 58
George School: 9 | 12 | 6 | 6 || 33
Friends’ Central: 21-52 FG (6-12 3PT), 10-12 FT
George School: 12-44 FG (3-15 3PT), 6-10 FT
Friends’ Central: Garrett 19, Greer 17, Bennett 11, Savage 4, Tucker 4, Williams 3
George School: Ponnam 10, Martinez 10, Frederick 4, Johnson 4, B. Harrington 3, S. Harrington 2
Bliss leads George School boys to big win
Christian Bliss (above) had 28 points, eight assists and four rebounds in George's win. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
After a letdown loss to Westtown School last Friday, George School coach Ben Luber needed to see his team bounce back. Not just to get back on the winning side, but to show they have the mental toughness needed to accomplish the only two things the team really cares about: a Friends’ League title, and a PAISAA title.
“That’s all I’m hoping for,” the former Penn State point guard said. “To build that team cohesiveness, execution, all that kind of stuff, to win the big one.”
That’s the bar for the Cougars, who have the talent to go the distance, with three current high-major recruits in the starting five, even if they were humbled a bit by the Moose. They looked back to their normal selves on Tuesday, battling through some early foul issues to win 79-57 behind a strong second half and terrific overall game from Christian Bliss.
Bliss, a 6-4 lead guard who’s recently picked up offers from Villanova, Saint Joseph’s and Xavier to add to a quickly-growing list of high-level programs, was 7-of-13 from the floor (2-4 3PT, 8-9 FT), with four rebounds and eight assists, a number that could have easily been double digits if not for a few missed layups.
He was hitting tough jumpers off the bounce, a couple spot-up 3’s, got into the lane, and made good pass after good pass, whether those were kick-outs to shooters or feeds into George’s towering frontcourt of 6-11 sophomore Luke Bevilacqua and 6-9 Xavier-bound senior Kachi Nzeh.
“I thought Christian just took over the game, controlled the game, made guys around him better, made the right passes, he was unbelievable tonight in my opinion, I think he was the catalyst for our team to hold it together.”
It was Friends’ Central (5-9, 2-2) who led 31-30 at halftime after Nzeh picked up three early fouls, as Nigel Pierman (13 points, 3 rebounds), Isaac Moore (10 points, 5 rebounds) and Liam Foley (9 points, 4 rebounds), the Phoenix’s frontcourt — all of whom are about 6-4 — able to tough out some inside buckets. But with Nzeh back on the court in the second half, those opportunities vanished.
Nzeh scored 15 of his 19 points in the second half, finishing with eight rebounds (five offensive) and three assists; Bevilacqua had a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Senior point guard Dante Weise made it four George School players in double figures with 10 points, adding three assists and three steals.
The Cougars (10-3, 2-1) still have eight games left in the regular season before the FSL playoffs and then PAISAAs, enough time to make a couple more tweaks, but not enough for any more significant bumps.
“The Westtown game we needed,” Luber said. “We weren’t resilient in that game, so it was good to get back out there.”
Friends’ Central: 14 | 17 | 13 | 13 || 57
George School: 15 | 15 | 28 | 21 || 79
Friends’ Central: 18-43 FG (5-11 3PT), 16-22 FT
George School: 27-60 FG (4-16 3PT), 21-26 FT
Friends’ Central: Pierman 13, Oshodi 10, I. Moore 10, Foley 9, Bowman 7, Muhammad 5, Belcher 2, Boyer 1
George School: Bliss 24, Nzeh 19, Bevilacqua 18, Weise 10, Mastin 6, Diouf 2