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October 4, 2009

Philly Trumps NY & NJ

Team Philly, on its first day of pool play, went 2-0 against two metro teams: St. Benedict's (New Jersey) and Westchester Hawks (New York) at the iS8/Nike Fall Tip-Off Classic on Saturday.

The PA squad, which consists of sophomores and juniors, used its tough aggression inside and out to battle both Blue division rivals.

"The effort was good," said Team Philly head coach Lonnie Lowry. "Usually, to win two games in here, this atmosphere, with younger guys, the mental aspect is a little bit different, but they pulled it out."

v. St. Benedict's (82-72)

Team Philly shot off to a 6-0 lead early in the first quarter with relative ease. After some time, both teams were having a hard time finishing at the rack because of the intense pressure coming from each squad's defensive sets.

St. Benedict's crawled within four, 18-14, but Team Philly's Ameen Tanksley (23 points) banked a trey before the close of the first quarter. The score stood at 21-14. Team Philly was just warming up as the second quarter brought a series of changes. The PA squad gained a lead of 13 points, 31-18, after a sequence sparked by big man Eric Copes (10 points). Copes and his guard/wing teammates created an effective high-low game that was difficult for St. Benedict's to match.

That difficulty level was not respected by St. Benedict's Aaron Brown (36 points). Brown, with some help from Xavier Monford (10 points) and Gil Biruta (15 points), aided his team in melting the double-digit margin to six points twice before the close of the first half. The feisty NJ squad made some big shots off some turnovers to chip the deficit down to a two-possession game with over a minute remaining before the break.

However, Team Philly was able to inch its advantage up to seven, 42-35, at the game's midway mark.

In the third quarter, St. Benedict's gave Team Philly a huge scare after Brown staying with a possession, grabbed four offensive boards and finished, making the score 42-39. Philly knocked down a quick three, but Biruta answered with a trey of his own.

Thereafter, St. Benedict's made Team Philly work for every basket, while still managing to frustrate the offense for more scoring opportunities of its own. Despite the struggle to make these shots, Philly did shoot its way up to a 12-point advantage 56-44.

Conversely, Team Philly shut down St. Benedict's and the NJ squad was unable to make something happen on the offensive end from the perimeter to the paint. Copes began to reject baskets to the cylinder, making it difficult for a rattled St. Benedict's to settle for an easy basket. Brown started to create his own tough shots, knocking down a three-pointer and finishing the conventional three-point play to bring St. Benedict's within eight, 58-50, by the close of the third.

Team Philly's Juanya Green (18 points) and Amile Jefferson (12 points) aided in their team keeping a bustling Brown and company from staging a comeback in the fourth quarter. Brown, with his 14 fourth-quarter points, tried to save the game for his team. However, his effort went without the much-needed help on both ends of the hardwood to pull out the victory.

"The first game was a grueling game," said Lowry. "St. Benedict's was pretty good, very talented team. So, that took a lot out of us [and] we had to gun out the last one, but we got through it."

v. Westchester Hawks (58-55)

Team Philly and the Westchester Hawks maintained a close game throughout the stretch, keeping spectators on their toes on how this one would end. The always rough and rugged NY competition had to, ultimately, notch this one in the losses' column, as Team Philly edged Westchester Hawks 58-55.

Team Philly was not running on tired legs, as they matched the intensity of the fresh Westchester Hawks. The Hawks used its strength and quickness to keep in stride with Philly throughout the contest. Westchester Hawks led early on, with Team Philly lagging behind a little 14-12. But, Ameen Tanksley (20 points) knotted the game at 14 after knocking down a pair at the charity stripe.

The squads volleyed back-and-forth between small leads and ties throughout much of the first half until Westchester Hawks, with the help of Dustin Hogue (18 points), pulled away a bit, earning a hard-fought 24-16 lead. Seconds later, Hawks' Jordan Bronner (19 points) nailed a dagger from deep and gave his team a 27-17 lead. With two minutes remaining before halftime, Team Philly was able to overcome the deficit and bring the game within one, 30-29.

The half closed at 36-31, Westchester Hawks.

In the second stanza, both teams clawed into a heated basket-for-basket brawl, each ravaging the paint of its opponent. At the top of the fourth quarter, Bronner brought the game back within one, 47-46. Team Philly took the lead for the first time in the last and final period 51-49.

Again, both squads stayed neck-and-neck, down to the final two minutes of the fourth. Team Philly's Juanya Green (15 points) and Dave Appolon (12 points) helped their team gain a five-point lead 55-50, after three-of-four free throws made at the charity stripe. With about one minute remaining in regulation, team Philly led 56-52.

Westchester Hawks' Brian Voelkel (seven points) brought the Hawks within three, after making one-of -two free throws with about 50 seconds on the clock. Team Philly's Eric Copes was fouled on the next offensive trip up the court, but missed both opportunities. Voelkel was able to gain hold of the rock, but fell and Team Philly's Amile Jefferson got the loose ball.

Voelkel got it back in possession and dunked the ball, narrowing the margin, 56-55, with only 20 seconds before the game's close. However, a technical was called on Voelkel for, what appeared to be, hanging on the rim. Team Philly made one-of-two at the line and widened the gap a bit 57-55.

Westchester Hawks fouled twice down the 14-second stretch to extend the clock for a chance to take over the game, but to no avail.

"I always expect to win, I'm confident," said Lowry of his future expectations playing in the tournament. "I have some pretty talented kids, tough kids mentally and physically, so I always expect to win."

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