SOUTH LEBANON – It isn’t about what they individually bring to the table – it never is with the Cedar Crest boys’ basketball team. Even though those personal skill sets are considerable.
It was more of a comfort thing. Having everyone back in place. Knowing where everyone is on the floor at all times. Everybody sliding back into their normal, usual, routine roles.
The family was back together again, and perhaps just a little bit stronger than it was before.
On Saturday afternoon at an overflowing Lebanon High School, banished prodigal sons Josh Bucher and Andrew Eberhart returned to the Falcon fold in a big way, leading Cedar Crest to a 63-47 triumph over Lower Merion, in the opening round of the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs. Bucher and Eberhart combined to score as many points as Lower Merion totaled as a team, displayed maturity and leadership on the court, and their presence seemed to energize their teammates.
With Bucher making shots, Eberhart playing big on both ends of the floor, Evan Horn and Soren Frost slowing prolific Ace Jule Brown and guard Dom Garloff hounding Lower Merion’s Corey Sherman, Cedar Crest raced out to an early 16-4 advantage. Then after the Aces closed to within four points in the middle of the second period, the Falcons employed more of their trademark team work to blow the District One sixth-place finishers away.
Bucher, Eberhart and reserve Marq Kintzer returned from one-game suspensions that may have cost Cedar Crest last week’s District Three Class AAAA championship. The three were suspended for creating, and posting on social media, a rap-style video that was said to be vulgar, tasteless and offensive.
The victory earned the Falcons, now 27-3, a shot at the ultimate challenge, the right to play District 12 champion Roman Catholic, the top-ranked Class AAAA team in the state. That second round game in the PIAA playoffs will be contested on Wednesday at a site and time to be determined.
Lower Merion concluded its campaign at 17-11.
“Josh’s shooting stretches defenses, and that opens up drives for other people,” said Cedar Crest head coach Tom Smith. “Andrew does a good job on the defensive end. He blocks shots, alters shots and rebounds well. To have them back, it was nice to get everybody back to their roles.
“Their points just came in the flow of the offense,” Smith continued. “We didn’t do anything special for them.”
“It was a little bit of both,” said Bucher, when asked if his and Eberhart’s performances were statements or just came from what the Falcons do. “I had a lot to prove. A person is not judged by their mistakes, but how they respond to them. But I couldn’t drop 29 points without my teammates.
“I think the key was being with my teammates,” continued Bucher. “They’re brothers to me. That (the suspension) was a low moment for me and the team. But it just creates motivation. People do want to see us fail because we’ve been successful. But our fans have been great, and I love our community.”
It was Cedar Crest’s second burst of energy which proved to be lethal.
Up just 18-14, the Falcons embarked on a late second-stanza 12-2 journey that pushed their halftime lead to 30-16. Over the last 4:12 of the half, Cedar Crest got a drive from Bucher, an Eberhart inside move, a steal and lay-in by Bucher, a pair of Frost charity tosses, a Horn lay-up and a strong, buzzer-beating move around the basket by Frost.
The Falcons were never seriously headed again.
“We always start with the defense,” said Smith. “I thought we matched up really well with them defensively. We wanted to give Soren and Evan a piece of number 12 (Brown). We executed what we do. There’s not a lot of things that we do differently.
“They all can play man-to-man defense,” added Smith. “Every single one of them can defend.”
“It (watching the District Three final from the stands) took every ounce of energy for me not to jump over that barrier and be with my teammates,” continued Bucher. “But I was very proud of how they played. The way they played looked like they didn’t lose anyone. We have so much chemistry on this team that we can overcome things like that.”
Cedar Crest’s attack did not relent in the second half.
The Falcons opened the third quarter with a 12-4 spree and extended their advantage to 42-20 on a couple of Nick Miller foul shots with 3:34 to go in the period. Along the way, Bucher and Eberhart collected five points apiece.
“I love it,” said Smith of what may very well be the Falcons’ final game on Lebanon County soil this season. “We didn’t talk about that. It probably is, and what a way for these guys to go out. We were playing a home game on our rival’s court and it was electric. It was a great environment.”
“I thought we had a little bit of a home court advantage,” said Bucher. “I saw some Cedar Crest blue and white in the stands on top of some Lebanon blue and red. I love this gym, how close the people in the stands are to the court. But we’re making a statement for Lebanon County, not just our school.”
Bucher poured in his career-high 29 on four three-pointers and nine-of-ten free throwing, while Eberhart threw in another 18 Falcon points. The Falcons went 23-for-36 at the foul stripe, compared to the Aces’ eight-of-19.
“They were leaving him open and he was knocking them down,” said Smith of Bucher. “He’s been hitting big shots for us all year. The nice thing about 29 was that he didn’t force it. They came in the rhythm of the offense. They (his players) know what they need to do and they went out and executed.
“I don’t think this (the state playoffs) adds any extra urgency,” added Smith. “There’s no consolation games. It’s one and done. But I don’t think it’s anything special.”
“No, I don’t know how many points I scored,” said Bucher, immediately following the conclusion of the contest. “In the high 20s? I don’t think I broke 30. But I’ll take it. That’s a career-high. To beat a District One powerhouse and drop 29 points on them, it might be one of the biggest highlights of my career.”
Behind eight Bucher points, an old-school three-point play from Eberhart and a Miller lay-in, the Falcons hit the aces with a 13-0 spree over the second portion of the opening quarter. But Lower Merion started the second quarter with a 10-2 burst to pull within 18-14.
“It’s going to be a great challenge, which our kids are going to embrace,” said Smith of the impeding battle with Roman Catholic. “Our kids are excited about the opportunity. If you want to be the best you’ve got to beat the best. Now here we’ve got the opportunity.”
“Yes, we want to be in those types of games,” said Bucher. “In a state run, you want to see the best teams. We love playing great teams.”
Lower Merion (47)
Cedar Crest 2014-15 Results
|6:30 PM||W 62-44|
|5:00 PM||W 70-60|
|7:30 PM||W 50-48|
|7:30 PM||W 65-27|
|7:30 PM||W 68-53|
|7:30 PM||W 74-45|
|7:30 PM||W 57-48|
|7:30 PM||W 46-43|
|7:30 PM||W 80-61|
|7:30 PM||W 53-42|
|7:30 PM||W 58-56|
|7:30 PM||W 55-33|
|7:30 PM||W 45-44|
|7:30 PM||W 66-23|
|7:30 PM||W 67-52|
|7:30 PM||W 59-42|
|7:30 PM||L 54-58|
|7:30 PM||W 58-54|
|7:30 PM||W 52-38|
|7:30 PM||L 57-60|
|7:30 PM||W 72-43|
|8:00 PM||W 68-46|
|7:00 PM||W 56-33|
|7:00 PM||W 45-40|
|7:00 PM||W 70-66|
|8:00 PM||W 52-38|
|1:00 PM||W 76-49|
|8:00 PM||W 58-49|
|1:00 PM||L 53-56|
|1:30 PM||W 63-47|