by Jonathan Vander Lugt
Springside Chestnut Hill head coach Julian McFadden never passes up the opportunity to talk about his team. He loves Blue Devil basketball almost as much as he does his own toddlers, who often run around the gym after games and practices, tracing their dad’s footsteps on the hardwood.
That’s not to say he necessarily wants to talk after each game. He’s weathered stagnant performances, last-second losses and blowouts as he has rebuilt his alma mater’s basketball program. It isn’t easy for coaches to say nice things after their teams lay an egg, but he usually finds a way.
Never, though, has he declined an interview following a game.
“I don’t even know if I’m in a place to talk,” he said outside the locker room, after his Blue Devils fell to the Episcopal Academy Friday night.
The feeling was understandable. He had just lost a heartbreaker to end all heartbreakers: after battling all the way back from an 18-point deficit, the Blue Devils took several leads in the fourth quarter but squandered possessions and free throws late before falling 60-56.
In fairness, he did offer to catch up later in the evening. The rest of his Inter-Ac opponents were slated to play over the next three hours, and it would have been foolish to pass up the scouting opportunity afforded by remaining at the gym.
So he gathered himself, spoke to his team and surfaced during halftime of the next game in the season-opening triple-header at the Jefferson East Falls campus.
“I think the moment was a little too big for us,” McFadden said. “We haven’t been here since my first year, and it was our first real showcase game.”
In 2017, McFadden’s first Inter-Ac contest ended with a 77-52 loss to Malvern Prep in the same gym. Last year’s triple-header was snowed out, so this was his team’s first real chance to make a statement in front of the whole league.
It started well enough. The Blue Devils notched a handful of quick baskets off the hands big man David Robinson to work an early lead. His teammates failed to get much going, though, and SCH was down 11-8 heading into the second quarter.
“For the first three minutes, we looked good,” McFadden said. “Then they started hitting some shots and it got away from us.”
Episcopal tallied 26 points – including five treys – in the second quarter. The Blue Devils went into the half down 37-21 and appeared to be careening toward a blowout loss.
“Once it starts raining,” McFadden said, “It can pour quickly against a team that can shoot it.”
SCH came out of the second half a completely different team. Episcopal’s Matt Dade made the first shot to extend the deficit to 18, but the Blue Devils would go on to turn the game on its head.
“There is no 18-point shot,” McFadden said. “We needed to win the first few minutes and go from there.”
Soon, a six-point burst turned into a 10-point run which eventually ballooned to 17 consecutive SCH points before the Churchmen finally scored again.
“After that first half, I really tried to keep my composure and not let them see me discouraged. They can feel it,” McFadden said. “We came out, started executing and were feeling good about ourselves.”
By then, the Blue Devils were within a single bucket. Junior guards Ke’Shawn Williams and Delonce Hines scored six apiece, and SCH went into the fourth quarter down just 43-40.
“It was the same exact game plan, but we ran it with more intensity,” McFadden said. “We knew that even though we had made a lot of mistakes, [Episcopal] wasn’t better than us.”
In the fourth, however, the Devils were more green than blue.
“We put a little bit too much pressure on ourselves and you could see it in the shot selection,” McFadden said. “We made a few turnovers, and late in the game it just snowballed away.”
Down 58-56 in the game’s final seconds, Williams fought his way to the line for a chance to tie. Normally a steady shooter, the junior had 17 points and a handful of the game’s biggest shots under his belt.
He bricked both, and SCH managed to get the rebound with eight seconds left but couldn’t manage to call one of its three timeouts. McFadden’s attempts fell on deaf ears, and the team – unaware of how much time was left on clock – twice chucked off-balance heaves toward the basket even though there was more than enough time to regroup.
Eventually, Episcopal found possession of the ball before Colin Chambers sunk a pair from the charity stripe on the other end to bring the game to its final margin.
“I think it’s all inexperience in games like this,” McFadden said. “We haven’t really gotten over the hump.”
“The only thing you can do is just communicate that the Inter-Ac is a 10-game season,” he went on. “You’ve got to put the game behind you – we can’t sulk in the fact that we gave one away.”
Robinson led with 18 in addition to Williams’ 17. SCH (7-9, 0-1) lost 86-74 to Boys Latin Saturday and will host Malvern Prep for its second Inter-Ac tilt Tuesday.
“It’s one of those games you learn from,” McFadden said.
“But it stinks,” he went on, “because now we’ve got to fight from behind.”
SCH: 8 13 19 16: 56
EA: 11 26 6 17: 60
Springside Chestnut Hill: David Robinson 9 0-0 18; Ke’Shawn Williams 8 0-0 17; Delonce Hines 3 1-2 7; Zyon Grant 2 2-2 7; Jared Sprague-Lott 2 1-2 5; Jack McDonald 1 0-0 2.
Episcopal Academy: Matt Dade 8 4-5 21; Alex Capitano 5 3-4 14; Colin Chambers 3 5-5 13; Jack O’Reilly 2 0-0 4; Luke Lesher 1 1-1 3; John McElwee 1 0-0 3; Jalin Meachem 1 0-0 2.