Talk about a tale of two halves.
For the opening 16 minutes of play, Pennsbury's opening round game of the PIAA Class AAAA tournament was looking like a disastrous hangover. In the Falcons previous game Feb. 28, a chance at the program's first District I title slipped from their grasp thanks to a disastrous fourth quarter. Things were looking very worrisome again against Wilson, a District 3 team sporting a fifth-place tournament finish of its own.
After rallying to tie things at 22 by halftime, though, the Falcons found their groove, and blasted to a 29-9 spurt during the third quarter and never looked back in a 65-43 victory.
"We were a little sloppy,' coach Bill Coleman said. "There were a variety of factors playing into it.'
"But,' he added, "I knew that as long as the energy was high, we'd be ok.'
Wilson simply had no answer for the Falcons relentless shooting as the second half went along. Most of the damage was done by junior guard Cameron Jones, who nailed all four 3-pointers he took in the third quarter on his way to a game-high 21 points. His services were hardly needed in the final eight minutes, which was the case for the rest of the starting five as they turned the game over to the reserves as the final whistle neared.
"In the third quarter, they left me open for one shot, and I made it,' Jones said.
He and the Falcons took flight from there. Pennsbury shot 14-for-24 in the second half and made all eight of their 3-point attempts in the process.
"I have all the confidence in Cameron. He's been training to do this since he was a little kid,' Coleman said. "Made shots allowed us to press and that was the biggest difference.'
Meanwhile, senior point guard Steve Ciotti, who had a difficult final quarter handling the Chester press in the District I championship game, drove to the basket at will at times against Wilson on his way to 13 points. Junior guard Mekhi Bryant, another Pennsbury ball handler, battled for 15 points of his own, while 6-8 center Derrick Woods had eight points in the paint.
"We have to make sure we're on top of him to do what we asked him to do,' Coleman said of Ciotti while praising his efforts.
"Come out aggressive, ' d-up' and push the tempo, because they were trying to make us play slow,' Ciotti said about what the coaching staff told the players at halftime. "We just wanted to spread everyone out, keep running through our offense and then get open shots and get to the foul line.'
Pennsbury struggled during the first half due to nine turnovers and shooting 38 percent from the floor. Part of the trouble was that several Falcons attempted to create their own shots but were unable to finish them, rather than swinging the ball around and settling into their offensive sets. Several players had also attended the school's junior prom the night before, which, though he made them practice prior to that, Coleman supported since it was a "once in a lifetime' event.
Eventually, the Falcons largely corrected their early problems and dominated in all phases in the second half. In doing so, they got to the foul line 10 times, forced seven Bulldog giveaways (13 for the game) and held them to 30 percent shooting.
"The second half, we came out and played very good defense,' Jones said.
Wilson, which was led by Travaun Coad's 16 points, finished its year at 26-4. Despite Coad's solid output, he only hit three shots from the floor, as the remainder of his points were on free throws. He also did not get enough help, as no one else reached double figures for the Bulldogs. Sam Smith came closest with nine points, while Jaylin Calloway added six points.
Wilson's bench did outscore the Falcons, but by a 4-2 margin. Pennsbury's reserves did enough on both ends of the floor to both allow starters occasional rest and finish the game strongly.
The victory improved the Falcons to 23-5 on the year and advanced them to the round of 16, where they will take on District 12's Martin Luther King March 12 at a site and time to be determined. That squad, which was runner up in the District 12 tournament, defeated Cumberland Valley, 57-43, in its opener.
Just as importantly, it was a rebound from a disappointing 52-49 setback to Chester, in which the Falcons allowed a lead as high as 13 points vanish in the closing three minutes. Both Bryant and Johnson fouled out in the final quarter, and the team went home feeling unfulfilled.
Perhaps the chance for redemption has now begun.
"Now, we've just got to keep looking to the next game and play to our best, because if we lose, we got home,' Ciotti said. ***
Pennsbury 65, Wilson 43 (March 8 at Council Rock South)
Cameron Jones 21; Mekhi Bryant 15; Steve Ciotti 13; Derrick Woods 8; Nigel Johnson 6; Jimmy Flagg 2.
*Pennsbury was 8-of-8 from 3-point range in the second half and 10-of-16 for the game.
Travaun Coad 16; Sam Smith 9; Jaylin Calloway 6; Kyle Watkins 4; Matt Timochenko 4; Zach Button 2; Ryan Connolly 2.
*Wilson shot 15-for-50 in the game.LINESCORES
Pennsbury 11 11 29 9 — 65
Wilson 8 14 9 12 — 43Three-point goals: P—Jones 5, Johnson 2, Bryant 2, Ciotti 1. W—Smith 1.