Lower Merion beats Chester 63-47 for AAAA title

Lower Merion's Henry Oliver (15) leaps around with his teammates after they defeated Chester in the PIAA Class AAAA Boys Basketball championship game on Saturday, March 23, 2013, in Hershey, Pa. Lower Merion won 63-47. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

March 24, 2013 4:47:58 AM PDT
His sweater spotted with drops of sweat, Lower Merion coach Gregg Downer emerged from his victorious locker room with a slight smile and a look of relief.

What a week it's been for the Aces and their head coach. First Downer's wife gave birth to a daughter on Thursday morning, then Lower Merion beat rival Chester on Saturday night to win a Class AAAA title.

B.J. Johnson had 22 points, and Jaquan Johnson's hustle sparked Lower Merion's defense late in the 63-47 victory that capped PIAA's championship weekend.

"It's been amazing. Arguably, some of the best 72 hours of my life," Downer said. "I have a beautiful young daughter at home now, and I have my third gold medal for a group of incredible kids."

And the program's seventh overall - though this one might be more special because the Aces (30-3) beat the Clippers (27-4). It was a rematch of last year's Class AAAA title game, won by Chester 59-33.

The Clippers were saddled Saturday night by 31 percent shooting despite getting some good looks at the bucket. Still, Chester drew to within 43-38 early in the fourth quarter, and fans wondered if the Clippers would make a patented late charge.

Instead, Lower Merion got its revenge and snapped a three-game losing streak against its fellow southeastern Pennsylvania power.

"We just had a game plan to have fun out there," Jaquan Johnson said.

Like when Johnson found Yohanny Dalembert (10 points, seven rebounds) for a dunk with 5:55 left.

Or when Johnson got a steal on Chester's next possession and found Raheem Hall for a layup on the break to take an 11-point lead roughly 30 seconds later.

Lower Merion's loud student section celebrated early in the stands. In the hallway under the Giant Center after the game, Dalembert carried the championship trophy over his head and swung it side-to-side as if he were protecting a rebound.

Chester's 78-game winning streak against Pennsylvania opponents came to a halt. They were also held to a season low in points, thwarted in part by 1-of-13 shooting from 3-point range.

"Tonight just wasn't our night. We seemed a step slow. We just couldn't find that spark we needed," Chester coach Larry Yarbray said. "The past three years we've won something like 105 games, and I'm proud of my guys for that. But tonight wasn't our night."

Rondae Jefferson had 12 points and 18 rebounds to lead Chester, while Richard Granberry had 10 points and 10 boards. The Clippers appeared to be the favorite in the PIAA's marquee matchup of championship weekend.

But Lower Merion had the smooth, cool B.J. Johnson, who calmly handled Chester's pressure. He finished 6-of-9 shooting from the field and 8-of-11 shooting from the foul line.

Last year, the 6-foot-7-inch forward, who plans to attend Syracuse, had seven points and six rebounds in the title game against Chester.

"He worked so hard the last 12 months to potentially gain this redemption," Downer said of Johnson. "He's really struggled against Chester ... For him, that type of performance when it counted was great for one of the finest players to ever play at Lower Merion."

That's quite the compliment considering Lower Merion boasts Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant among its alumni.

Lower Merion also tried shortening the game at times by playing a slow-down, four corners offense. Downer said he thought going into the game that Chester might be too physical for Lower Merion defensively.

The strategy paid off.

"If you play a team four times in two years, it's hard to beat them every time," Yarbray said. "They know what we want to do; we know what they want to do. Tonight was their night."