By Jeremy Balan
As similar as the Lick-Wilmerding High School and Lowell boys basketball teams are in personnel, style and scheme, the semifinal matchup between the two in the Cardinal Classic semifinals came down to execution.
The Tigers were simply the better team and led after every quarter in a 45-35 win on Friday at Lowell.
Lick’s (6-2) defense forced 21 turnovers, limited the Cardinals (4-2) to just 31 total shots from the floor and didn’t allow a Lowell player to score in double figures.
“They had a tough time getting good looks with the guys they wanted and defense was really the key to our success tonight,” said Lick head coach Eliot Smith. “The defense creates our offense and it keeps us active, and it really helped today.”
Driving the Lick high-pressure defense were senior guards Isaiah Boone and Phillip Stone Jr., who also led the Tigers’ offense.
Boone had a game-high 14 points, with seven coming in the fourth quarter, and Stone added 10, but the most efficient scorer for Lick was forward Benjamin Schneider. The 6-foot-4 junior had 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting and fueled a third-quarter run that allowed the Tigers to extend an 18-16 halftime lead to 33-22 heading into the fourth.
“Isaiah and [Stone] are the nucleus of our team,” Smith said. “They’re the ones pressing and they’re running our offense, so we need the other guys to pick up the slack for us. There were some big shots tonight by Isaiah, Schneider and [Stone], and those were the difference.”
For Lowell, the shooting struggles and turnovers that have been covered by standout defensive efforts early in the season were exposed against the Tigers.
“We are not executing our gameplan, and because of that, we’re turning the ball over too many times,” said Lowell head coach Rob Ray. “We’re not in the spots were supposed to be and when one or two guys are not in the right spot, then everything breaks down.”
Nine Lowell players scored in the game, but the Cardinals are still searching for an offensive leader to take the key shots in crucial situations. Lowell senior guard Avery Nicastro-Aikman has taken on that role at times and led the Cardinals with nine points on 4-of-4 shooting against Lick.
“I’m at a loss for words right now,” Ray said. “I honestly think that we are way better than how we are playing. I don’t know if it’s a team chemistry thing or a coaching thing. I have a feeling that the guys are going to rally and get better. We’re capable of good moments, but tonight was not one of them.”
Lick will take on tournament favorite Half Moon Bay, which took down Piedmont in the other semifinal, in the championship game on Saturday.
The Cougars (4-1) have five players standing 6-foot-3 or taller, including 6-10 junior center Owen Putz, and also routed common opponent Balboa in the first round of the tournament, while Lick dropped a game to the Bucs in their own tournament last week.
“We have to find a way to slow them down, because they want to fast break and they’re strong inside.” Smith said. “At least we come in with confidence. They beat us both times [in a tournament game last year and in a summer league game], so it’s not like we’ve never seen them before.”
Isaiah Boone — 14
Benjamin Schneider — 12
Phillip Stone Jr. — 10
Andrew Rauch — 4
Two players tied with 2 points
Avery Nicastro-Aikman — 9
Jackson Miao — 8
Jorell Cacatian — 5
Max Pollard — 3
Taylor Tsang — 3