MALVERN - The problem wasn't taking the floor with one arm tied behind its back.
What plagued the Lebanon boys basketball team most severely Saturday was running time and again into a sea of enemy arms every time it crossed half-court. And not long after, there was a flood of Cedar turnovers sinking their season's hopes straight down the drain.
Through relentless defensive pressure, District 1 champion Plymouth-Whitemarsh brought Lebanon's 2015-16 campaign to a swift 81-41 end at Great Valley in the PIAA Class AAAA tournament first round. The Cedars (16-11) coughed up more than turnovers than they hoisted shots before halftime, while attempting to defeat the Colonials' press without suspended starters Matty Lopez and Allan Escoto.
Plymouth-Whitemarsh (26-1) received 30 points from senior star Xzavier Malone and outscored the Cedars by 34 over the middle quarters.
"We were going to have to play close to perfect. And they were going to have to not play perfect," Lebanon coach Tim Speraw said. "Obviously we didn't do that. We turned the ball over too much.
"We had different offenses to go against (the press) and just didn't execute. And if you don't execute against a team of this caliber and a kid like Malone, you're going to be on the outside looking in for most of the game. And we were."
Despite their fumbling ways, the Cedars managed a five-point deficit after the opening quarter, having largely escaped the harm of their turnovers by forcing deep Colonial shots over their 2-3 zone. Lebanon junior Shaq Ortiz collected six of his team-best 11 points in the quarter, and Dante Vargas (10 points) also connected on the first of his three treys.
But even as Vargas' second long ball fell at the outset of the second, briefly yielding a one-possession game, Plymouth-Whitemarsh began to quickly pull away via fast-break buckets and transition-generated foul shots. Malone then splashed back-to-back 3s midway through the period, before Ahmad Williams added another trey to go with his pair of free throws for a 31-14 advantage.
The Colonials eventually led by 20 at the break and continued to hound the Cedars over a 24-5 third quarter.
"We came to play like we could beat this team," said Lebanon senior Danny Caricabeur, who scored six points. "We studied hard. We worked ... to get to where we are, but it just didn't click in the end."
The Cedars' defeat now not only means the end of their season, but the conclusions of Caricabeur's high school career and those belonging to fellow senior captains Justin Baker and Logan Blouch. The trio left the Great Valley floor Saturday with barely minutes to spare, well after Colonial subs had started to stream in.
"Playing hard to the end, running the floor; at the end of the day, I can't ask for anything more than that," Speraw said. "Their character is incredible. Their work ethic, the way they carry themselves, I couldn't ask for more out of these three guys. I'm going to miss these three a lot."
Though he may not have to. The soon-to-be graduates each plan on returning to Lebanon games next year upon their respective returns home from the in-state colleges they plan to attend. And none shared any doubt that it will be a happy homecoming when they do.
"Next year, people are going to fear Lebanon," Caricabeur said.
Pointing back to his locker room, Blouch agreed.
"People better watch out for Lebanon next year. They all want it in there."
And sometimes, as his now former coach knows, that's all you can ask for.
Plymouth-Whitemarsh 81, Lebanon 41
Danny Caricabeur 2 0-0 6, Justin Baker 1 0-0 3, Dante Vargas 3 1-2 10, Cam Shaak 2 0-0 5, Luis Aquinos-Rios 2 0-0 4, Sebastian Sierra 0 0-0 0, Cody Kissinger 0 0-0 0, Felix Kortright 0 0-0 0, Shaq Ortiz 2 7-9 11, Logan Blouch 0 0-0 0, Khalique Washington 1 0-2 2. Totals — 13 8-13 41.
Oakley Spencer 4 1-1 9, Xzavier Malone 11 3-4 30, Matt Walker 1 1-2 4, Ahmid Williams 3 6-9 12, Ahmad Williams 1 5-6 8, Davon Burrell 1 1-2 3, Alan Glover 1 0-0 2, Mike Lolito 2 0-0 4, Devon Lawrence 1 0-0 2, Naheem McLeod 1 0-0 2, Grady Minick 1 0-0 2, Cooper 1 0-0 3. Totals — 28 17-24 81.
Lebanon_ 11 _ 7_ 5_ 18 _ — _ 41
Ply.-Whitemarsh_ 16_ 22 _ 24 _ 19 _ — _ 81
3-pointers — Leb 7 (Vargas 3, Caricabeur 2, Baker, Shaak), P-W 8 (Malone 5, Walker, Ahmad Williams, Cooper).