POTTSTOWN — The Hill School boys basketball team certainly did not play its best basketball during the first half of Sunday afternoon's Mid-Atlantic Prep League championship contest. At times they got away from their usual unselfish team play and went into the locker room at the intermission with just 20 points on the board, one less than Blair Academy.
But John Carroll went inside for 14 points after the break and James Fives hit for 15 from the outside as the Blues took the lead early in the third quarter and pulled away in the fourth for a 58-49 win at Gillison Court.
Carroll finished with 20 points and 17 rebounds and Fives totaled 18 points as The Hill (16-3) won its third MAPL title in the last seven years. Marial Shayok led the Buccaneers with 22 points.
"We didn't feel like we played a very good first half, obviously,' said Hill coach Seth Eilberg, whose team shot just 35 percent (7-for-20) in the first two quarters. "Part of it is a credit to them (the Buccaneers) ... their defense and their intensity. We didn't share the ball like we usually do. We were over-dribbling."
Bryce Allen (8 points) sank a shot from the left baseline to give the Blues a 22-21 edge. Then Shayok — who has signed a National Letter of Intent to attend Marquette — drove for a basket to put the Bucs back on top.But Fives nailed a 3-pointer from the left wing and the hosts led the rest of the way, although it took until the final two minutes to break the game open for good.
The Hill led by a 36-32 score after three quarters and appeared to take command when Carroll made two from the line and Fives lofted in a 3-pointer from beyond the top of the circle and was fouled and made the free throw for a 42-32 advantage.
Then Buccaneers closed the gap to 48-43 on a layup by Elijah Burns (9 points, 7 rebounds) with just under two minutes to go. But The Hill responded with a nine-point run. First, they broke a full-court press and Carroll wound up with a 3-point play off a pass from Allen. Then Allen made two from the stripe, Carroll scored off a drive, and Allen swished two more foul shots.Carroll finished with at least four rebounds in each quarter.
"My shots weren't falling, so I decided to go get rebounds and go inside," said the 6-foot-8 post-graduate from Dublin, Ireland. "We just started running our stuff and the forwards were setting hard screens ... just being strong with the basketball because our shots weren't falling until the end."
"We were attacking the basket a little bit," Eilberg added. "That opened up some stuff. Our guys made some tough plays in the second half."
The two teams tied for first place in the MAPL during the regular season with 4-1 records, including a Hill 58-56 overtime win against Blair two weeks ago. The Blues advanced to the final with a Saturday night 49-31 win over Hun — which had handed The Hill a 51-50 setback early in the season — as Carroll scored 17, Fives added 10 points and five rebounds, Matt Foltz threw in eight points and seven boards, and Allen contributed six points, six assists, and four steals.
Then the Blues found themselves behind by as many as six points in the first half on Sunday against an outstanding opponent before their offense began to click.
"The best team I've ever played," said Carroll.Eilberg was impressed with the second-half play of Fives and Carroll after their so-so first halves."I think the thing we've been talking about and preaching is toughness,' said the Blues' coach. "Going up and getting the basketball ... and the other thing is mental toughness. Fives and Carroll had less than stellar first halves and they came back strong in the second half."
The Blues also won the MAPL title in 2008 and 2011. ... Carroll was not intimidated by the Bucs' 6-foot-11 Brett Jolly, who got into some foul trouble and scored just four points. ... "Usually I'm faster than them (taller players), so I can go by them,' said Carroll. ... The Blues had a 32-22 edge in rebounds and shot 57 percent from the floor in the second half to finish at 46 percent for the day. ... Blair had just 10 turnovers — none in the fourth quarter — to 14 for the Blues. ...The hosts shot 16-for-17 from the line, including 11-for-12 in the fourth quarter. ... The Hill School will host Germantown Friends on Friday at 5:30 p.m. in the first round of the Pennsylvania Independent Schools Tournament.