LOWER MERION >> In a back hallway at Harriton High School Tuesday night, two players met and embraced, one wet from a celebratory dousing of ice water, the other’s face stained with tears. In a ***-for-tat fourth quarter, those two players seemed intent on deciding a Central League championship by whomever had his hands on the ball last. Steve Payne did.
The Lower Merion guard hit a runner high off the glass with 2.6 seconds left, one possession after Penncrest’s Tyler Norwood had tied the game in similarly spectacular fashion, as the Aces earned a 48-46 win for their second consecutive Central League championship.The battle for a crown ultimately came down to the two stars, who led the way offensively. Norwood paced all scorers with 19 points, Payne with 18. Of the 20 points scored in the fourth quarter Tuesday, 15 were provided by the duo. From the time Harrison Klevan hit a 3-pointer to put Lower Merion up 43-39 with 4:39 left, the rest was up to Norwood and Payne’s personal game of one-on-one.
“I like that. I like the competitive nature,” Payne said. “Ty’s a great player. He gives me a great game every game. He’s a great point guard, he leads the team, he’s great. I love going against him. I love competing against him.”
“It’s hard because they are playing a box-and-1 with a guy coming at me,” Norwood said. “I can’t really go right back at him; I have to figure out how I’m going to get the ball. Playing against Steve for the past three years has been a battle. He’s a great player.”
Norwood, fighting through the faceguard he was constantly under, hit an and-1 to get Penncrest within 1 at 43-42. Payne drove to the bucket, then hit the front end of a one-and-one to stretch the lead to four, but Norwood would yet have his say. He sunk two at the line, then after Darryl Taylor bricked a front-end, Norwood charged down and hit an eight-foot floater with 31 ticks left.
“They know when the fourth quarter comes, I’m going to try to do what it takes to win the game,” Norwood said. “… Matt (Arbogast) played outstanding on the boards, Chris (Mills) played outstanding on the boards. It’s just one possession away, one shot away or one stop away. Collectively we played the best we could. It just came down to a last-second shot to overcome us.”
There was little doubt whose number Lower Merion would call the final time down the court. Payne held the ball at the top of the arc as the clock ticked under 10 seconds. He bounded to his right, past Justin Heidig and the help defense of Mills and laid one under the outstretched arm of Arbogast, off the backboard and in.
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