By Jeremy Balan
The Academic Athletic Association’s Lang Division may have the lion’s share of premier scorers in the league, but after Friday, there’s no doubt which team has the best defense.
Lowell High School allowed 20 points to visiting Marshall High School in the first quarter, but then shut down the Phoenix, allowing just 23 points in the final three quarters combined in a dominating 68-43 win in the AAA quarterfinals.
“We played our best game tonight,” said Lowell head coach Rob Ray. “They came out ready to play, but I just think we outlasted them.”
Leading the way for the Cardinals (20-9) on both ends of the floor was senior Ricco Price, who had a team high 15 points and also anchored the Lowell defense against a tall and athletic Marshall (13-16) frontcourt that featured Mark Alexander (6-foot-6), Davon Perkins (6-8) and the AAA’s leading scorer in Theoatis Hill (6-3).
“Our main focus is defense, no matter what,” Price said. “It was on me to step up today, and I just did my best to help my team win.”
Price also had several key blocks in the game, which often swung the momentum of the game into the Cardinals’ favor.
“He’s been that guy all year long for us,” Ray said. “A lot of people haven’t put us [with the AAA’s best teams], so people don’t pay that much attention to the best player on the team. It’s kinda nice that we’re not up with Washington and Mission, but Ricco has quietly averaged a double-double.”
The Cardinals held Hill to just four points in the first half, but he did all he could to will the Phoenix back in the second, scoring 15 points to total a game-high 19. The rest of the Phoenix struggled in the second half though, only scoring three points on 1-of-15 shooting.
“We didn’t come to play. It was obvious. You have to be ready to come in here and play all four quarters, not just one,” said Marshall head coach Dezebee Miles. “The whole season I could never gauge what team would show up, and tonight the team that I didn’t want to show up was the one on the floor.”
Hill, still only a junior, averaged nearly 25 points and 13 rebounds per game in a season that was tumultuous at times for the Phoenix, and has made a significant case for AAA Player of the Year.
“He’s just fantastic, the best player in the league, hand’s down,” Miles said. “He may not get the credit for it this year, but there were times when we had just five guys [playing] and he never complained. He always went out there and did what I asked him to do.”
While the Phoenix struggled in the second half, the balanced Lowell motion offense thrived, connecting on 15-of-25 shots from the floor. Ten Cardinal players would score in the game, including 11 points from junior guard Zachary Yu and nine from junior forward Jackson Miao, who led a Lowell bench that tallied 32 points.
Next up for the Cardinals is rival Washington, which easily dispatched Burton in its quarterfinal matchup.
“We have no chance against Mission and no chance against Washington,” Ray said with a wry smile. “Washington is going always going to be a rivalry game for us. They’re a great team with a couple of great players, so the challenge is there for us.”
Ricco Price – 15
Zachary Yu – 11
Jackson Miao – 9
Bryan Robinson – 8
Casey Chow – 7
Theoatis Hill – 19
Mizelle Park – 11
Mark Alexander – 5
Arthur Captain – 3
Marcus Blacksher – 3
Wallenberg 53, Lincoln 50
An emotional season has come to end for Lincoln, which fell to 2010 AAA finalist Wallenberg 53-50 on Friday in the league quarterfinals.
Lincoln’s Artrix Thomas had 20 points and fellow guard Chris Young added 17, but the Mustangs could not overcome a breakout performance from the Bulldogs’ frontcourt of David Li and Aaron Brown, who combined for 30 points on 13-of-18 shooting from the field.
The death of Linocln head coach Mike Gragnani early in the season made the Mustangs a sentimental favorite in the AAA, and Wallenberg head coach Pat Mulligan was almost apologetic after the win.
“It was easily the best we’ve played all year,” Mulligan said. “It was heartbreaking to beat them. They just ran into us on the wrong night.”