by Jonathan Vander Lugt
By the time Mason Williams stood at the free throw line for the first of four consecutive tries in the third quarter, the tide was already turning.
After going into the half trailing, Penn Charter crawled back bit-by-bit. Shortly after PC took a small lead, the Blue Devils committed two technical fouls on the same play, giving the Quakers a quartet of free throws to extend their advantage.
Williams, the team’s senior leader, lined up. He entered the game with 990 points, and at the time of his free throws, he had 996. All he had to do was knock down four shots in a row in front of a packed crowd to get to the magical 1,000-point mark.
He delivered on each.
“It demonstrates the work that I’ve put in over the years,” he said, “and it also demonstrates a lot about our team and the trust we have for each other.”
He finished with 19, and his Quakers weren’t challenged from that point forward. A 28-5 third-quarter advantage blew SCH out of the water on the way to an 81-56 final.
“My motor is one of my strengths,” Williams went on. “I try to stay involved no matter what I’m doing in the game. Even if I’m not hitting shots or playing well on offense, I try to do other things throughout the game.”
He was coy about the prospect of playing ball in college, but is looking towards a handful of Ivies and has one Atlantic-10 school interested. For now though, he’s content to stay in the moment.
“It was a big night for him – he had that milestone on his mind,” said Penn Charter head coach Jim Phillips said. “There were some nerves and anxiety, but we gathered ourselves at halftime and figured it out. Mason’s always a good scorer, and he’s really become a multi-dimensional this year. Up through his sophomore year, he was more of a shooter, but by now he can create off the bounce and get to the foul line. He’s an improved defensive player too.”
He leads the Quakers with 18 points per Inter-Ac game so far, and leads the league in points scored on the season with 284.
“When you’re a senior and it’s your swan song, you empty the tank a little bit more every night,” Phillips said. “There aren’t going to be more opportunities and he’s realizing that. Some of his goals for the season haven’t been attained, so he’s still hungry and he’s helping keep the young guys hungry too.”
Elsewhere, fellow senior Will Samuel tied him for the team lead with 19, while Ryan Holmes chipped in with 13. PC plays the Haverford School on Tuesday, a matchup that will give PC a chance to tie for first in the league heading into the conference’s second half of games.
“We’re playing well,” Williams said, “but I don’t think we’re at our full potential yet.”
“There’s a very thin line for us between being successful and not being successful,” Phillips said. “I’m a curmudgeon – I’m never really ‘happy’ – but do I think that we show signs of improvement? I do. There is still room for growth.”
As for SCH, their room for growth was evident. After two quarters of fearless basketball, the Blue Devils wilted.
“We came out great, and we told them to try to not play in the emotion from the first two quarters,” said SCH head coach Julian McFadden. “What did they do? Play in the emotion from the first two quarters. We put it in the refs’ hands when we didn’t need to.”
The Blue Devils found themselves in significant foul trouble early in the third, resulting in the blowup that led to Williams’ four-point play.
For the players, it was easy to blame the officiating for the rapid self-destruction, but that’s hard to parse out. Timidity resulting from foul trouble does lead to less aggressiveness and all-around discomfort on the court – but to say that the Blue Devils lost because of the refs simply wasn’t true. You have to play with the hand you’re dealt, and that’s what McFadden focused on at the end of the game.
“With younger guys, you can’t harp on them too much because they can get down in a snap,” he said. “We’re giving them the weekend to clear their minds but also to realize they just put down a game that we could have won if we had just played the way we knew how. They’re still in the mindset of ‘Well, the refs took it away from us.’ We’ve got to be able to learn how to take responsibility for our actions. When you get to work late because there was traffic, you can’t blame it on the traffic. It doesn’t work like that – you were still late.”
Sophomore Ke’Shawn Williams led the gym with 20, while Jack McDonald and Jared Sprague-Lott scored 13 and 11, respectively. SCH concludes the first half of its league schedule Tuesday at the Episcopal Academy.
“It’s one of those games you’ve just got to let go. You have to expect that these will come occasionally,” McFadden said. “Again though, we’re a little bit better than people think. We’re going to surprise some people – I’m not all up in arms about the season. It’s just one game. It’s a part of it – you’ve got to be ready to live with it and not let it break your spirit.”