’Canes take down Lower Merion on 2 OT
New Castle (62) Vs. Lower Merion (59)
The streak is alive for the New Castle High boys basketball team.

The Red Hurricane drove more than five hours across the state and found a way to get consecutive victory No. 60 on Saturday.

Drew Allen buried a 3-pointer with 23.2 seconds left in double-overtime and hit the charity shot after he was fouled, turning a three-point deficit into a one-point lead. New Castle would score the final two points to survive for a 62-59 win over Lower Merion in the Kobe Bryant Play-By-Play Classic at Lower Merion’s Bryant Gymnasium. The gym is named after NBA superstar Kobe Bryant, who starred at the school.

The Aces dealt the ’Canes a crushing 67-63 loss in the PIAA Class AAAA semifinals at Williamsport High School. Lower Merion, which won the state championship last season, is located in the Philadelphia suburbs.

New Castle coach Ralph Blundo downplayed the revenge factor.

“Revenge is a strong word,” Blundo said. “It’s a team we wanted another crack at. One of the reasons we wanted another crack at it is we know we needed to play a team of that caliber and length for future games.

“Lower Merion is really an excellent team. They’re big, strong, athletic. It was important to win and win the way that we did, by showing great resolve and toughness. The ability to weather some really good runs by Lower Merion and at the same time to continue to play possession by possession was key.”

The teams were tied at 51 following regulation and 55 after one overtime.

New Castle (14-0) is ranked No. 1 in the WPIAL in Class AAAA by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and No. 3 in the state by the Patriot-News of Harrisburg.

“I thought our effort was outstanding (Saturday night), but we made a few mistakes down the stretch,” Lower Merion coach Gregg Downer told gametimepa.com. “(New Castle) is a blue collar team, and they battle you all the way. We had 21 turnovers (Saturday night), but they’re all over you, they try to make you play fast.”

The host Aces held a 59-56 advantage with possession of the ball and 45 seconds to play in the second overtime. But the ’Canes’ pressure defense forced Lower Merion to throw the ball away.

“Our strength is the ability to turn people over,” Blundo said. “At that point, I’m just thinking we need to generate a turnover in the first 10 or 15 seconds of that possession or else we have to foul.”

The turnover created an opportunity for Allen to shine.

“It was just a great shot,” Blundo said of Allen’s trifecta. “It was a side out-of-bounds play. We were looking to get Anthony (Richards) coming off a screen for the screener play and two guys ran at him.

“He reversed it to Jake (McPhatter) and Jake made a pass to Drew and the Lower Merion kid contested it hard for the foul. To go from down three to up one after the foul shot was huge. Now you’re a stop or two away from winning the game.”

The Aces had some looks inside following Allen’s four-point play, but they were unsuccessful and New Castle hung on.

Malik Hooker, a senior and Ohio State University football recruit, paced the ’Canes with 17 points on 8-of-16 shooting. He added 10 rebounds, four assists, three steals and three blocks, while draining a shot from just inside half court to beat the first-quarter buzzer. The shot gave New Castle a 20-13 cushion after one stanza.

Hooker fouled out late in regulation.

Allen tossed in 15 markers with six boards and six assists. He was 5 of 9 from the floor. Richards tallied 12 points and Levar Ware chipped in with 11 markers, 12 rebounds and four assists.

Justin McFadden netted a game-high 18 points for Lower Merion. McFadden registered 11 of his points in the first half as New Castle forged a 29-24 buffer at the break. Jule Johnson contributed 17 markers for the Aces.

JaQuan Johnson fouled out at the end of regulation for Lower Merion.

“The reality is, it seems like a lot of fouls were called,” Blundo said. “But they let the teams play and it was a physical game.”

The ’Canes collected 35 rebounds, including 18 on the offensive end.

“That’s an unbelievable number,” Blundo said of the offensive boards. “We were able to generate extra possessions by doing a great job of boxing out.”

New Castle (8-0 section) returns to action at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow when it hosts Pine-Richland (3-5, 6-8) in a WPIAL Section 3-AAAA matchup. The ’Canes won the first meeting on the road, 93-57.

“My job is to see to it that we’re ready for our next game,” Blundo said. “Pine-Richland is getting better and they’re beating some teams. The younger guys are playing better as well. We’re looking forward to getting back in action at home.”

Game Scoreboard
New Castle 20 9 14 8 11 62
Lower Merion 13 11 18 9 8 59
Box Scores
Micah Fulena 0 0-0 0
Anthony Richards 4 2-3 12
Malik Hooker 8 0-0 17
Jake McPhatter 0 1-2 1
Drew Allen 5 3-4 15
Levar Ware 3 5-8 11
Robert Natale 2 0-0 6.
Totals: 22 11-17 62.

JaQuan Johnson 1 4-4 6
Steve Pendleton 4 0-0 8
Nick Jones 2 2-2 7
Justin McFadden 7 4-5 18
Jule Brown 7 3-4 17
Corey Sherman 1 0-0 3.
Totals: 22 13-15 59.
NEW CASTLE 20 9 14 8 4 7 — 62
LOWER MERION 13 11 18 9 4 4 — 59
3-point goals — New Castle 7 (Richards 2, Hooker 1, Allen 2, Natale 2), Lower Merion 2 (Jones 1, Sherman 1).
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