Sam Sessoms (above) had 35 points and nine rebounds as Shipley downed Friends' Central on Tuesday afternoon. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Zach Drapkin (@ZachDrapkin)
For the Shipley School, there are pros and cons to having one of the area’s top high school point guards.
The benefit is obvious -- Sam Sessoms is a playmaker who can take over games night in and night out. But with that comes a certain reliance on his ability to create buckets, and a discrepancy when he’s not in the game.
Both effects were on display in the Gators’ 68-61 win against Friends’ Central on Tuesday night. Sessoms exploded for 35 points, nine rebounds, and six assists, but the team’s inability to maintain a lead after he got into foul trouble nearly proved costly.
Shipley (7-4, 2-0 Friends Schools League) hopped out to a 37-20 halftime lead, behind 19 points from the 5-11 Binghamton commit. Sessoms was in attack mode right out of the gate and outscored the entire Friends’ Central team through most of the first two quarters. The Gators were chomping along quite comfortably.
Midway through the third, the lead was 47-33, but when Sessoms picked up a technical foul, sending him to the bench with four personal fouls, Shipley began to struggle.
Friends’ Central (7-7, 1-1 FSL), behind a ferocious effort from Omar Nichols and Myles Robinson, who combined for 25 points in the second half, cut the 14-point deficit to one with a 15-2 run over four minutes. Nichols had 14 of his team-high 22 points in the second half and Robinson scored all 11 of his points in the second half, knocking down three 3s.
“Second half, they picked up their tempo, and we slowed ours down,” Sessoms said. “When I got the technical foul, I was on the bench for a couple minutes, and they started hitting shots, and that’s all a team needs. When they start hitting shots, everything starts clicking, and that’s what happened with them.”
Luckily for Shipley, Sessoms was there to save the day in the fourth.
As soon as Friends’ Central got within one, he was there with a 3-pointer to push the lead back out to 52-48. Every time the Phoenix closed in, Sessoms found his way to the foul line, took a deep breath, and knocked down a pair of free throws.
By the final buzzer, he was 13-of-14 from the line, 9-of-10 in the fourth quarter alone, and Shipley had escaped with a win.
Sessoms had 12 of the Gators’ last 19 points, proving he could almost single-handedly carry the team to victory, even against a top league rival in Friends’ Central.
“He has no problem putting his team on his back and telling everyone to get out the way and just doing his things,” Shipley head coach Phil D’Ambrosio said. “Our guys know how to play off that also because they’re comfortable with Sam.”
At the same time, however, it showed Shipley’s reliance on what D’Ambrosio called Sessoms’ “will to not let us lose.” Though happy with the win, the Gators weren’t proud of squandering a 17-point lead.
“We’re not going to ride Sam scoring 30, 35 points for us a game. That’s not what we want to do,” D’Ambrosio said. “We want to try to keep it a little more balanced and get other guys involved and just piggyback off of him.”
“I was very proud of them for the fact that we didn’t give it away, but the fact of the matter is, with a 17-point lead, it shouldn’t have gotten into single digits,” he added. “But, credit to Friends’ Central, they kept playing, they made some good plays in timely fashion.”
That’s not to say other individuals didn’t have their moments for Shipley on Tuesday. Junior center Ray Somerville, a 6-10 post who has six Division I offers, scored 10 points and was a monster protecting the rim, blocking seven shots and affecting countless others. Sophomore wing Randall Brown made some nice hustle plays off the bench as well.
Against Pennsylvania’s best teams -- like, say, Friends Schools League champion Westtown -- that won’t be enough. The Gators can’t expect to get half their scoring from Sessoms.
The more comfortable complementary pieces like Chaz Owens, Khai Champion, and Somerville become, the better chance the Gators’ will have to defeat Westtown on Jan. 19.
“Obviously I’ve got to have a good game, but I’ve got to back my teammates up, some of the younger guys may not have faced athletes of that standard, but it’s my job just to lead them and have a good game,” Sessoms said.
The showdown with Westtown will truly be the culmination of Shipley’s season thus far. Last year’s 96-72 loss to the Moose in the conference championship game drove the Gators to put giants such as Neumann-Goretti and Archbishop Wood on their schedule, and those matchups certainly helped prepare the team for a rematch with Westtown.
“That’s what we did all this for, honestly,” D’Ambrosio said. “With Westtown, that’s a league matchup. You better come ready to play, you know what you’re getting into…we’ve played against some really good ball clubs, and I’m just hoping that pays dividends for us moving forward.”
After a five-point upset win over Neumann-Goretti and a one-point loss to Wood, Sessoms thinks it has.
“We’re ready,” he said. “We’re ready for Westtown, for sure.”
Shipley has cemented itself as the most qualified in-league challenger behind the Moose after piling Tuesday’s win on top of their performance against a tough non-league schedule. There are other good teams in the Friends Schools League -- D’Ambrosio noted Abington Friends and Germantown Friends -- but Shipley is clearly a top-two conference team at the moment.
“I think tonight’s game was a good indicator of who the next team (behind Westtown) is,” D’Ambrosio said. “We feel like we have enough over here to where we should be able to get back to that Friends’ League championship.”
Sessoms didn’t want to go so far as to assume that Westtown is ahead by any margin.
“We haven’t played Westtown yet,” he said. “We’re going for the first spot.”