Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
LOWER MERION — It was at halftime, Charlie Thornton said, that Radnor had a decision to make. The Raptors were locked in a battle, holding a one-point lead on the road at archrival Lower Merion, in the only regular-season meeting between the two Central League favorites, and according to Thornton, it came down to a choice.
“Are we going to bend and break,” the Radnor senior recalled them saying, “or are we going to stay together and try to really win the game?”
Charlie Thornton (above) had 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting to lead the way against Lower Merion. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
It was an obvious answer, of course, though easier said than done — at least, so you’d think. The way Radnor played the final 16 minutes against the program used to being the class of the league, it looked like it was no more difficult than the simple flipping of a switch.
With everybody in the Radnor top seven contributing almost equally, the Raptors put their foot down on the road, a decisive third quarter leading to a runaway 64-41 win on Tuesday night in Kobe Bryant Gymnasium.
After Lower Merion took both of last year’s matchups, by 12 at Radnor in the regular season and by 10 in the Central League championship — on top of just about every other time they’ve played in the 21st century — Radnor sent a clear message that the tables have clearly turned.
“It means a lot,” Thornton said. “I mean, one, every game is [...] one game to get better, but for me, this is my first time beating Lower Merion, so it means a lot. And to be up one at halftime and then really stretch the lead, it means a lot for our development as a team.”
Thornton led the way with 15 points while Jackson Gaffney added 14 for the Raptors (17-0, 11-0 Central), though it really didn’t seem to matter just who was putting the ball in the bucket for Jamie Chadwin’s group.
Radnor shot 26-of-38 (68.4%) from the floor, 8-of-11 from 3-point range, with 17 assists on those 26 buckets. It helped that almost every shot they took was a layup or a wide-open 3-pointer, but that’s a credit to the ball and player movement.
Junior wing Henry Pierce finished with nine points and a couple dimes; point guard Danny Rosenblum and wing Cooper Mueller added eight apiece; senior wing Michael Savadove had the back-breaking shot of the night, a 3-pointer ahead of the 3Q buzzer to send Radnor into the fourth with a 45-28 lead, capping off a 21-5 period and making it very clear by that point which set of fans would be going home happy.
Savadove’s big shot wasn’t the only highlight of the second half for the Raptors, who threw home no fewer than four dunks, including an alley-oop by Gaffney (and one the next possession, on the fast break), and one by Mueller, the future Princeton lacrosse player showing he’s got plenty of pop of his own.
They were plays that were befitting a sold-out Bryant Gymnasium, which was split almost evenly between Lower Merion and Radnor faithful, plus a handful of city hoops notables who just stopped by to see a game that’s been circled on both team’s calendars since November.
“I feel like there were a couple momentum plays,” Hicke said. “The [Savadove] 3 was big, Coop’s dunk was big. There were just so many electric plays that got everybody going and going, and we just didn’t give up.”
Cooper Mueller (above, 13) was responsible for doing the heavy lifting on guarding Penn star Sam Brown (left). (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Radnor made up for 16 turnovers, its only blemish on the evening, with a masterful defensive performance on the Aces (15-2, 9-2), who entered the night No. 2 in the District 1 6A rankings, in addition to being right behind the Raptors in the Central League standings.
With Mueller and Pierce focused on Penn-bound LM star Sam Brown and Danny Rosenblum doing the heavy lifting on the Aces’ other high-scoring senior, Sam Wright, they were still able to prevent the rest of the Aces’ supporting cast from getting going, forcing them into tough mid-range pull-ups and off-balance layups.
Brown got to 16 points with his usual impressive mix of 3-point shooting and interior shot-making, but he was held without an assist, Radnor staying down on shooters and cutters and preventing LM from getting anything easy at the rim.
“Really happy with what we did defensively,” Radnor coach Jamie Chadwin said, “and fortunately it turned into some offense because we were able to establish a little bit of a lead, and that’s kind of what inflated it a little bit.”
The main distributor in the Raptors’ offense was senior wing Jackson Hicke, who was a master facilitator on a night where Lower Merion was doing all it could to take away his scoring ability.
With the Aces’ sending bodies at the 6-foot-5 Princeton commit every time he attacked the paint, Hicke didn’t force shots but instead found his teammates cutting for open layups time and time again, racking up seven assists; he also grabbed 10 rebounds and came up with two third-quarter blocks while finishing with five points, taking only five shots.
“I think I knew that there was going to be something different coming from me tonight, because they usually throw people off their game,” Hicke said. “My mindset’s always to play-make and get into the paint, and they were hugging me and sending a lot of help.
“So my mindset didn’t really change, it was just that I’m dumping it off instead of going up [...] Charlie, Jackson, Henry, they timed the cuts perfect and that speaks to our chemistry. It was all them, the timing, all I had to do was bounce the ball to them.”
Jackson Hicke (above, 33) had five points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and two blocks in the win. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
He had to do a little more than that: Hicke threw a gorgeous no-look pass for a layup in the first half, had a couple other nifty feeds out of double-teams, always perfectly timed to a cutter.
“I suspect at the next level, he will be a distributor,” Chadwin said. “He will be someone who makes everybody else better on the floor, and then takes advantage of his opportunities as well.”
Radnor’s got nothing but league games left, starting with its next two games on the road, at Springfield (Delco.) on Thursday and then at Penncrest on Saturday, before returning home to face Harriton and Marple Newtown next week. A trip to Strath Haven on Feb. 7 is the regular-season finale.
There’s a good chance these two teams will meet again in the Central League championship game in just a few weeks, a rematch from a year ago, a 59-49 Lower Merion win. Tuesday’s night is no indication of how the rematch might go, but Radnor knows the pregame chatter will be quite different than if their first matchup hadn’t gone the way it had.
“I think we just made it known that I think we’re the team to beat,” Hicke said. “I think we just made a statement that teams are coming for us, not the other way around.”
Radnor: 9 | 15 | 21 | 19 || 64
Lower Merion: 10 | 13 | 5 | 13 || 41
Radnor: 26-38 FG (8-11 3PT), 4-4 FT
Lower Merion: 14-40 FG (3-16 3PT), 10-14 FT
Radnor: Charlie Thornton 15, Jackson Gaffney 14, Henry Pierce 9, Cooper Mueller 8, Danny Rosenblum 8, Jackson Hicke 5, Michael Savadove 5
Lower Merion: Sam Brown 16, Justin Poles 7, John Mobley 6, Sam Wright 6, Gus Wright 3, Jordan Meekins 2, Cole Nocek 1