Anthony Dabbundo (@AnthonyDabbundo)
Having seen its lead shrink to just three points with under four minutes left in the fourth quarter, Methacton desperately needed points.
Playing without 6-foot-9 sophomore forward Jeff Woodward due to a hand injury, the Warriors turned to David Duda. The junior guard slashed through the Spring-Ford defense, laying the ball in with his left hand at the rim, drawing a blocking foul on Nestor Diaz.
The ensuing possession, Duda struck again. The 6-2 guard came off a ball screen, spotting up in the corner in front of the Warriors bench. When the ball reached Duda, everyone inside the Rams’ packed gymnasium knew what would happen next. Wide open in the corner, Duda nailed the three, the ball not so much as touching the rim as it flew through.
Now up nine points, the Methacton faithful roared. And Duda, a player who typically keeps his emotions inside him, erupted. With a huge fist pump and a yell, Duda got his revenge on Spring-Ford. Despite three close losses by less than five points this season, Methacton efficiently managed the final moments on Tuesday night. The Warriors won their Pioneer Athletic Conference opener, defeating rival Spring-Ford 80-75 thanks to 28 points from Duda and 14 free throws in the final quarter.
“Anytime you play Spring-Ford there’s more emotion to it, there’s more excitement,” Duda said. “I rarely show emotion on the court but I had to there.”
Two schools separated by just nine miles in Montgomery County, Spring-Ford (1-3) and Methacton (2-3) have won three of the last four Pioneer Athletic Conference titles. In 2014, Spring-Ford defeated Methacton to win the league title. The following year, Methacton finished atop the conference.
When the two perennial championship contenders met on Tuesday night to open conference play, both were in desperate need of a win after a disappointing non-conference open to the season.
After losing by one point to Pennridge, two points to Souderton, and five points to Central Bucks West, the Warriors closed out a victory in the relaxed, confident way that head coach Jeff Derstine had been hoping for. Methacton had lost its last four meetings with Spring-Ford, including two single digit losses last season.
Right from the opening tip, they wanted it more. Methacton scored the game’s first nine points, forced three turnovers, and took advantage of a Spring-Ford team that slept through the opening minutes. In the first half, when Duda was struggling to find his jump shot, Methacton turned to its supporting cast, who did not disappoint.
With four players in double figures, Methacton found offense from everywhere. Time and time again, Brett Eberly and Noah Kitaw found themselves with open layups as they cut backdoor behind screens. Methacton played efficient, effective basketball for the opening 16 minutes.
Despite Duda shooting just 3-of-8 in the first half, the rest of the Warriors offense was a combined 12-of-15 overall and 6-of-6 from inside the three point arc. Kitaw finished with 11 points, Marcus Girardo added 11, and Ammar Brown tallied 10 points off the bench.
Many of the Methacton points came from second chance putbacks off missed threes as they outrebounded the much bigger Spring-Ford front court. Without Woodward, the Warriors rebounded as a team, with three or four players crashing the glass every time a Rams’ shot went up.
“Usually we rely on Jeff to just go get the basketball to rebound, but we had to battle and work together tonight without him,” Derstine said.
“Every possession we had five guys boxing out, and it showed in the stats,” Duda added.
As Spring-Ford attempted to claw its way back into the game in the third quarter, Duda found his jump shot. He pulled up from long range at the top of the key, draining a three. Two possessions later, he found himself open on the left wing, and dropped another. Later in the quarter, leading 53-52, he lost his man, and nailed his fourth three of the quarter.
Even though the Rams made 10 field goals and scored 21 points in the third, it was not enough. Spring-Ford could not stop the Methacton offense all night, especially once Duda began turning a few feet of separation from his defender into three points.
“Even after the 1-for-5 start the guys in the locker room told me to keep shooting and they kept setting great screens,” Duda said. “At some point, it’s due to go in.”
While Spring-Ford was just 4-of-10 from the free throw line for the entire game, Methacton made 14-of-20 free throws in the final quarter. When the Rams needed to string together a few stops to cut the deficit, they could not manage to contain a Warriors offense that had not scored more than 59 points in any game this season.
The same defensive problems that plagued Spring-Ford against Penn Wood and Hempfield have continued into conference play. After holding CB West to just 30 points in their opening game, the Rams allowed 69 to Penn Wood and 67 to Hempfield in the last two.
“We had no energy, we had no effort, we had no toughness,” Rams head coach Chris Talley said. “Mistakes in free throw shooting are magnified when you’re constantly behind because you gave up 80 points.”
Noah Baker starred for the Rams, scoring 25 points, including 12 in the opening quarter. Despite holding a significant height advantage on the inside, Robert Bobeck and Austin Hokanson were held to just 10 and six points respectively.
Just when it seemed the game was out of reach, the Rams battled late and forced a five second inbound count with just 30 seconds left. Baker made a lay-up seconds later to cut the lead to two, but it was too little too late for Spring-Ford. Kitaw stepped to the line, sinking two free throws, handing Spring-Ford its third consecutive loss.