LOWER MERION 64, ROMAN CATHOLIC 52
Lower Merion's JaQuan Johnson and Roman Catholic's Shep Garner, longtime buddies and Chester natives, texted back and forth in the days leading up to Wednesday night's high-stakes basketball matchup.
"Shep asked me if I was ready for the game," Johnson said. "And he said that Roman was hungry to bring home a state title. I told him, 'You're going to have to get past the defending champs first.' "
Thanks largely to Johnson's terrific second-half performance, the Aces, with a deliberate offensive attack and stellar defense, ousted the Cahillites, 64-52, in a PIAA Class AAAA second-round contest at Archbishop Ryan.
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Johnson netted 18 of his game-high 20 points after intermission. He was solely responsible for an 11-2 run that put Lower Merion in front by 10 (43-33) with 6 minutes remaining.
"It was me being a senior, and not wanting it to be my last game," Johnson said. "My teammates kept finding me in the right spots."
Johnson shot 7 for 10 from the field (6 for 7 in the second half) and 6 for 8 from the line. The floor general added four rebounds, an assist, and a steal.
"He was fired up, really dynamic," said Lower Merion coach Gregg Downer, whose squad moved to within three wins of its second consecutive state crown and eighth overall. "He really rose to the occasion."
Saturday, at a neutral site and time to be determined, the Aces (23-7) will take on La Salle (21-6) in the quarterfinals. The Explorers advanced Wednesday with a 49-43 overtime triumph against District 3's Cedar Crest.
Against Roman, which was ranked No. 2 in Southeastern Pennsylvania by the Inquirer, No. 8 Lower Merion jumped out to a 14-4 lead.
"We came in here as the underdog," Aces senior Justin McFadden said. "Most people, except our fans, had written us off. That start was big for us. It set the tone for the rest of the game."
McFadden, a Binghamton commit, and junior forward Jule Brown (eight rebounds) contributed 14 and 11 points, respectively. Junior wing guard Corey Sherman (10) was also a double-digit scorer.
Down by 30-21 in the third quarter, the Cahillites, spurred by Rashann London, tightened things with an 8-0 burst. Johnson notched three straight buckets, including a three-point play, at the end of the frame to put Lower Merion back in control.
"It was a legendary performance by J.J.," McFadden said. "You could see he wanted to win this one for bragging rights."
London (19) and Garner (17) combined for 36 points. Roman (23-5) shot 19 for 55 from the field. The Cahillites were just 2 for 17 (0 for 13 in the second half) from three-point range.
For the Aces, junior guard Steve Pendleton chipped in eight points, five steals, and four assists. McFadden, who scored 10 of his 14 points in the first 16 minutes, blocked two shots.
Roman’s TreVaughn Wilkerson, a 6-6 junior who returned to action after missing four games due to an ankle injury, posted seven points, seven boards (five on offense), and three blocks off the bench.
The Cahillites, who were trying to reach the quarterfinals for the first time since 2010, committed five of their 12 turnovers in the first quarter.
Lower Merion held junior wing Gemil Holbrok, a three-point threat, to zero points on 0-for-3 shooting (0 for 1 on treys).
Roman sophomore point guard Tony Carr was held to three points on four shots, but posted five boards, four assists, two steals and a block.
Lower Merion 14 13 12 25-64
Roman Catholic 9 10 12 21-52
LM: JaQuan Johnson 20, Corey Sherman 10, Jule Brown 11, Justin McFadden 14, Steve Pendleton 8, Oliver Henry 1.
RC: Tony Carr 3, Rashann London 19, Manny Taylor 5, Shep Garner 17, TreVaughn Wilkerson 7, D'Andre Vilmar 1.