LOWER MERION 63, CHESTER 47
HERSHEY - First, a baby girl. Now, a third state championship. Life could not get much better for Lower Merion coach Gregg Downer.
Two days after he and wife Colleen welcomed a bundle of joy, Brynn Riley, Downer's Aces stunned Chester, 63-47, Saturday night to earn the PIAA Class AAAA basketball crown in front of 7,507 at the Giant Center.
"It's been amazing, arguably the best 72 hours of my life," the 23-year coach said after emerging from the locker room.
Lower Merion reversed three straight losses to the Clippers, including a 59-33 drubbing in last year's state final and a 60-46 defeat in the District 1 final earlier this month at Villanova's Pavilion.
"I can't even explain this kind of feeling," senior wing guard Raheem Hall said. "Getting this gold medal is such a great accomplishment. We worked real hard for this to happen."
Downer's last title, in 2006, also came at the Giant Center. In 1996, powered by Kobe Bryant, statewide glory came at HersheyPark Arena.
B.J. Johnson, a 6-foot-7 swingman and Syracuse commit, paced Lower Merion with 22 points and 11 rebounds. He netted 12 points in the first half, including a pair of three-pointers in the opening seven minutes.
Said Downer: "He worked so hard to gain this redemption. It couldn't have happened to a better player, one of the best we've ever had here. I'm so happy for him."
Hall contributed eight of his 12 points in the third stanza. Junior lead guard JaQuan Johnson chipped in six points, three assists, and two steals.
Yohanny Dalembert, a 6-8 senior center, posted 10 points, seven boards, three assists, three steals, and two blocked shots.
Down by 20-18, the Aces (30-3) closed the first half with a 10-0 burst that put them ahead, 28-20.
Key for Lower Merion was slowing the faster Clippers down with a four-corner offense. "We thought we played too fast in the district final," Downer said. "We wanted to spread them out this time, create as much space as possible."
Rondae Jefferson, a 6-7 swingman and Arizona commit, paced Chester (28-4) with 18 rebounds, 12 points, five assists, two blocks, and two steals.
In winning their seventh state title, the Aces denied the Clippers a third straight crown and ninth overall. They also snapped Chester’s streak of 78 consecutive wins against in-state opponents.
At the end of the third quarter, sub Baird Howland's right-wing trey gave Lower Merion a 43-35 advantage.
Early in the fourth, Dalembert's follow dunk and Hall's fastbreak layup produced a 51-40 cushion. Later, Dalembert's left-handed slam upped the lead to 55-44.
Chester's Darius Robinbson, a senior guard and three-point threat, played little after suffering a foot injury in the second quarter.
The Clippers shot 19 for 60 from the field, including 1 for 13 from beyond the arc. They committed 14 turnovers compared to the Aces’ 13.
Chester 14 6 16 11-47
Lower Merion 12 16 15 20-63
LM: JaQuan Johnson 6, Raheem Hall 12, Yohanny Dalembert 10, B.J. Johnson 22, Justin McFadden 5, Baird Howland 8.
C: Conrad Chambers 2, Darius Robinson 6, Rashan DeJarnette 4, Richard Granberry 10, Rondae Jefferson 12, James Kirksey 8, Isaiah Warren 3, Khalil Williams 2.