PHOENIXVILLE - Pope John Paul II and Phoenixville both got a taste of playoff-atmosphere boys basketball action Monday night in the windup game of the Pioneer Athletic Conference regular season schedule.
A large and loud crowd came out to watch the Golden Panthers and Phantoms battle it out for the PAC-10 Frontier Division title.
Pope John Paul II roared to a 12-0 start at the outset and then staved off Phoenixville’s comeback bid to come away with a 71-62 victory at the Phoenixville Area School District gymnasium.
Brent Mahoney fired home 27 points, including 10-for-10 shooting at the free throw line, to lead the Golden Panthers to victory. Mahoney, a left-handed shooter, tallied 12 in the first half as PJP took a 26-20 halftime lead.
Jamel Stinson added 12 second-half points and 10 rebounds for the Golden Panthers (9-4, 13-8), and James Bleming finished with 11 points with two first-period treys and 5-for-6 foul shooting.
PJP swept the season series from Phoenixville (8-5, 11-10) after taking the first-half meeting 61-53 in overtime at the Upper Providence court.
PJP clinched the top seed from the Frontier Division for Friday night’s Final Four playoffs at Spring-Ford High School and will take on Perkiomen Valley, the second seed from the Liberty Division, in the first game at 6 p.m. Phoenixville, which had its five-game winning streak snapped, will be the second seed from the Frontier and will face Liberty leader Methacton in the nightcap at 7:45 p.m.
Marcus Howell poured in a game-high 28 points with three triples for the Phantoms and DeAndre Gadsden produced 18 with one trey. Howell also had six steals, three rebounds and two steals while Gadsden totaled 10 rebounds, three steals and one blocked shot.
“We were coming off a good game the last game we played and we wanted the same start,” said Mahoney. “They (Phantoms) were hyped up.”
Mahoney drained a jump shot for the first basket of the contest and Bleming followed with a trey from the left wing. Mahoney made a layup. Then Mike Cianciulli turned a steal into a layup, and Bleming nailed his second trey from the top of the key following a Stinson steal to make it 12-0 in favor of the Golden Panthers with 4:29 remaining in the first quarter.
PJP made its first five shots from the field while Phoenixville strugged with three misses and two turnovers in its first five possessions.
Howell scored all nine Phantom markers as Phoenixville cut the deficit to five points at 14-9 by the end of the opening period.
“You can’t start 12-0 at this time of the year,” said Phoenixville coach Randy Reber. “We said before the game we were very excited early , and it reflected in our play, especially offensively with the way we handled the ball and our shots.
“They (Golden Panthers) are a good team and they made their first five shots, and it is tough to work back from that. I am proud of the way we hung in there and fought, but we just made too many mistakes, and not offensively. Marcus and DeAndre were a two-man game to keep us in it. Again, size gets us. Mahoney really impressed me with the takes he had and the drives. We contested and he finished strong, and they missed one foul shot all night.”
PJP shot 25-for-44 from the field and 17-for-18 at the foul line. Phoenixville shot 23-for-54 from the floor and 10-for-11 at the foul line. PJP also had the edge in rebounds, 26-23.
The Golden Panthers kept a 10-point lead at 50-40 after three quarters and sustained their advantage in the fourth quarter.
“The teams we’ve played lately have tried to take away Jamel,” said PJP coach Jack Flanagan. “Right now other guys have to step up. We knew James (Bleming) and Michael Cianciulli would be one of them.”
Cianciulli ended the game with seven points, including one third-period trey.
Alex Plate, Tim Tadros and Nick Demeno chipped in with four points each and Paul Tagliatela had one second-period bucket for two points.
The Phantoms’ Greg Hughes got into foul trouble and finished with six points iwth one trey. C.J. Lindsay had all five of his points in the third stanza. Victor Bozzelli made one third-period trey, and Ian Harrigan had one basket in the third quarter.
“I was concerned with their energy early in the game,” said Flanagan. “I knew coach Reber would have them ready to play. He is an icon in this league. He’s a great coach. They are going to be back in the Final Four and districts.”
Flanagan applauded Phoenixville for its “beautiful facility” at the new middle school building after the Golden Panthers’ first trip to the new gymnasium.
“Folks in Phoenixville do things first class,” said Flanagan.
Phoenixville pulled to within 44-40 with 1:21 left in the third period after Gadsden scored with an assist by Howell. But that was the closest the Phantoms got in the second half. The Golden Panthers used a six-point run to close the third quarter and then another at the start of the fourth to create a 56-41 cushion with 5:32 showing in regulation time following two free throws by Mahoney and two layups by Stinson off feeds from the PJP guards.