by Jonathan Vander Lugt
When Germantown Friends School is clicking, it seems as though it can do no wrong. Big man Pietro Berghella will patrol the lane and leverage his six-foot-nine frame for easy lay-ins, Peter Gard will linger on the perimeter and snipe triples, and Isaac Myrin will dart around the court and facilitate open looks with his screens and off-ball movement.
The first quarter of the Tigers’ Friday-night date at Friends Select ended with a 20-5 GFS advantage, and the Tigs were on fire. Gard and Berghella combined for 15, setting the stage for a blowout.
Everything looked great – until it stopped, abruptly. Friends Select clogged the lane with defenders, three-point shots bricked and GFS scored just 14 points over the next two quarters.
“Sometimes when we see zone defenses, we get a little bit too complacent and we settle for bad three pointers,” Werdt said. “It looks really good when it’s going into the basket.”
When the ball isn’t, it looks awful – hasty, impatient and out-of-sync. Germantown Friends eventually found its rhythm – largely due to the play of sophomore Dean Wang – in time to recover for a 56-30 late-season conference win.
“We did a good enough job defensively that when we went into a little bit of a scoring drought, we still had control of the game,” Werdt said. “We always want to go inside-out and get more dribble penetration against the zone. When we did that is when I feel like we performed best.”
After the Tigers raced out to such a big lead, the teams’ body languages switched. The overmatched Falcons started to play with a chip on their shoulder, and GFS took its foot off the pedal. At one point in the third, Friends Select winnowed the GFS lead to 11 at 30-19.
“I thought we did a good job of taking care of the basketball,” Werdt went on, “but the bigger concern we had was just being able to consistently score. They had some size and some athleticism, especially in some spots where the guys we were guarding them with were a bit undersized.”
“I think we just underestimated Friends Select a little bit,” Wang offered. “Coach called a timeout early in the fourth quarter and told us that we had to get our act together.”
Apparently, Wang took it to heart. Playing in front of a one-time home crowd (Wang attended the Friends Select Lower School), he began to attack the lane to try and draw fouls.
He made it to the line three times – and knocked down all six tries – to kickstart the Tiger offense. Now, the Falcons had to account for the inside play, freeing Gard, who knocked down a triple-and-one to widen the GFS lead. Wang hit a three-pointer of his own, and the newfound attention on the perimeter allowed Berghella to carve out four inside points.
Wang finished with 14, while Gard and Berghella submitted 18 and 16, respectively.
“It was nice to see Dean play well,” Werdt said. “He gives us a nice spark off the bench. Any time we can get Dean in double figures with limited turnovers, we’re giving ourselves a good chance to win. Most of those points came from getting in the lane and making something happen. It’s one of those things we’re continuing to work on.”
The win punched a pair of playoff tickets for GFS: the Friends Schools League playoff, and the Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association (PAISAA) year-end championship bracket. Werdt has led the Tigers to both in all five of his years as head coach, ending a long-time playoff drought on both fronts. Prior to 2013-14, GFS last made the league dance in 2007, and had never competed for the PAISAA title. The Tigs’ regular season ends on Tuesday with a matchup against Shipley.
Around the area
Looking around the Inter-Ac, Springside Chestnut Hill had the best week. It came with wins over the Episcopal Academy and Germantown Academy, and at 3-3 in the league, the Blue Devils are in the midst of their best season in a half-decade.
Ke’Shawn Williams scored 50 points between the wins, while Jared Sprague-Lott averaged double figures as he continues to find his sea legs. SCH travels to Malvern Tuesday before hosting Penn Charter Friday night.
That Quaker team dropped a pair to the top two teams in the league – Malvern Prep and the Haverford School – and will look to rebound on Tuesday by hosting Episcopal.
Germantown Academy continues to struggle – it now sits at 0-6 and is in very real danger of an Inter-Ac goose egg – after losses to both Malvern and Springside Chestnut Hill. Jim Fenerty will look to right the ship on Tuesday at the Haverford School before hosting Episcopal Friday.