Roman ousted in PIAA playoffs

CHARLES FOX / STAFF JaQuan Johnson reacts to Lower Merion's upset of Roman Catholic.
CHARLES FOX / STAFF JaQuan Johnson reacts to Lower Merion's upset of Roman Catholic. (reacts to Lower Merion's upset of Roman Catholic.)
Posted: March 14, 2014

THE LOWER MERION postgame celebration was still fresh in his mind when Roman Catholic senior Shep Garner emerged from the visitor's locker room at Archbishop Ryan.

About 30 minutes earlier, the Lower Merion student section flooded the court in full-on party mode after the Aces knocked off the District 12 top-seeded Cahillites, 64-52, in a second-round PIAA matchup.

His sweatshirt hood was raised and his voice was low, matching his somber countenance. Garner spoke softly about the game until he was asked what advice he'd give to his returning teammates.

"Just remember this," Garner said, his voice reaching its highest, albeit still modest, decibels. "Remember this taste. You don't want to feel like this ever again. I know they hurt just as much as I hurt, so just remember this day. Remember having their fans rush the court. Remember this stuff. You don't want to go through this again."

As it had done throughout the season, the duo of Garner and fellow senior guard Rashann London shouldered much of the offensive burden for Roman (23-5). Garner had a 17-point, four-rebound, two-steal night. London scored a team-best 19 points on 7-for-13 shooting.

"Me and Shep have a great relationship," London said. "That's one of my best friends. He's always there for me, pushing me and motivating me when I'm down. And when he's down, I'm doing the same thing for him. We've always just stuck by each other."

"This was a tough loss for us," London said. "We weren't supposed to lose, but it is what it is, we're going to deal with it."

The final score somewhat belies the contest's closeness. Lower Merion, the No. 5 seed from District 1, led most of the night, but the Cahillites had opportunities to pull ahead, only to falter near the end of crucial quarters.

A 9-1 spurt by the Aces just before the half yielded a 27-19 advantage after Roman took its first lead, 18-17, midway through the second set. Then, a 7-2 burst cemented a 39-31 lead into the fourth after the Cahillites charged to within 32-31.

"We were in the game at times, but they made runs," Garner said. "They just had more runs in them than us. That was it."

The Cahillites just couldn't come out of the same frenetic pace that helped get them back into the game. Eventually, having to play catch-up, caught up.

"You just kind of let them get out ahead and then we're playing catch-up," Roman coach Chris McNesby said. "Then we catch up, but then we never really calmed down . . . now that we were [back in the game] again. And against good teams you can't come back three different times . . . "

Roman received quality minutes from junior forward TreVaughn Wilkerson, who had missed four games with a high-ankle sprain. Wilkerson had seven points and eight rebounds and blocked a shot.

The Aces (23-7) were led by senior guard JaQuan Johnson, who consistently got inside the Roman defense en route to 20 points on 7-for-9 shooting. Senior forward Justin McFadden added 14 points and junior Jule Brown finished with 11. On Saturday in the PIAA quarterfinals, Lower Merion will play La Salle, which beat Cedar Crest, 49-43, in overtime.

As for Garner, a Chester resident who grew up playing with and against Johnson, he will play at Penn State next season; though he fears this game will linger on Johnson's lips.

"We've been best friends since we were 4 and 5 years old," he said. "We're not even friends, we're brothers. I'm happy for him, but you always want to beat your brother because [if not] you'll always hear about it. Great player and like I said, he's my brother, so we'll still be close."

London will play at Drexel next season. Both earned first-team All-Catholic this season as voted by league coaches after earning the same distinctions last season.

"I think I've grown a lot from not being expected to play my freshman year and coming out and starting my sophomore year and then just taking it since then," London said.

"I've done a lot of things," Garner said. "I'm proud of myself. I've done a lot at this school. You always want to win that state championship, but I just didn't. But other than that, I've done a couple good things."

By any conservative measure, certainly more than a "couple."

McNesby said the seniors "didn't want it to end. They battled to the very end and we appreciate their efforts in putting the Roman program back in the right direction. We didn't reach our goals, but they put the program back in the direction it should be."

On Twitter: @AceCarterDN

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