SLATINGTON Marian coach John Patton placed a huge emphasis on defense in his team's preparation Moravian Academy.
The Colts obviously were paying attention.
Led by an outstanding shutdown performance from Damian Richards, Marian rolled to a 50-29 victory in the quarterfinals of the District 11 Class A playoffs on Friday night at Northern Lehigh High School.
"We knew we were going to be coming off a layoff of more than two weeks and we were expecting some kind of junk defense from Moravian," said Patton. "Because of that, we realized there was a chance our offense might struggle a little bit.
"So we stressed to the kids how important it would be to play great defense and that's exactly what we did."
Nobody played that "great" defense better than Richards.
Saddled with the responsibility of guarding the Lions' high-scoring Luke Gutekunst (19.4 ppg.), Richards showed he was up to the challenge by limiting Gutekunst to just six points on just 2-for-11 shooting from the floor.
"When Anthony Agosti went down with an injury earlier this season, we needed someone to take his place as our ballhandler and as a shutdown defender," explained Patton. "Damian stepped up and filled both those roles.
"Tonight, he was relentless. He was physical enough, quick enough and smart enough to shut down a really nice offensive player."
Richards said he knew what to expect from Gutekunst after playing Moravian earlier this season and seeing the scouting report this week.
"I tried to keep the ball out of his hands by denying him all over the court," said Richards. "When he did get the ball I tried to use my lower body strength to force him away from the basket as much as possible. I also got a lot of help from my teammates. We had people rotating out on him and helping me anytime he put the ball on the floor. Anthony Pilla, Jordan Weber, just a whole bunch of people gave me defensive support."
The Colts (13-10) needed that tough defense early as they looked hesitant offensively against Moravian's triangle-and-two defense, committing 11 first half turnovers.
Despite the struggles, Marian never trailed as it jumped out to a 12-7 first quarter lead thanks to a pair of Ryan Karnish three-pointers. The Colt lead was 22-15 at halftime.
"We didn't do a good job attacking their defense in the first half," said Richards. "Coach Patton made some changes at halftime and that helped us.
"We were able to open up the lead a little bit and force them to go man-to-man. Once that happened, we were able to get inside for some easy baskets."
Moravian Academy was down 29-17 with just over two minutes left in the third quarter when it made the defensive switch.
Richards immediately took advantage of it, driving past his man for layups on three straight possessions that made it 35-19. A buzzer-beating follow-up shot by Zach Motil gave the Colts a commanding 18-point lead heading into the fourth quarter and Moravian was never able to make a run after that.
"Marian is a good team," said Lions' coach John Donmoyer. "I thought we weren't in bad shape at halftime. Our triangle-and-two seemed to have them a little off balance and we hadn't shot the ball too well so I was thinking that would improve in the second half.
"But you have to give a lot of credit to Marian's defense. They held us to our worst shooting game of the regular season (a 47-22 Marian win on Jan. 14) the first time we played them and we didn't shoot much better tonight. They play an aggressive, physical man-to-man defense that has caused us problems both times we played them."
In addition to his huge defensive game, Richards led the Colts offensively with 16 points. Eric Swankoski added 10 points and Alden Whah had seven points and 10 rebounds.
For Moravian Academy (11-12), Ted Messman had nine points.
Marian will now face Pius X on Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Panther Valley.
Ender 3-0-0-8, Anderson 0-2-2-2, Messman 4-1-2-9, Gutekunst 2-2-2-6, Townsend 0-0-0-0, Thomas 1-0-0-2, McCambridge 1-0-0-2, Inshal 0-0-0-0, Evans 0-0-0-0, Fritz 0-0-0-0, Kaufman 0-0-0-0, Hurley 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 11-5-6-29.
Talbot 0-0-0-0, Whah 2-3-4-7, Kweder 1-0-0-3, Karnish 2-0-0-6, Pilla 0-0-0-0, Latham 0-0-0-0, Motil 2-0-0-4, Julian 1-0-0-2, Richards 8-0-0-16, Swankoski 4-1-2-10, Bilka 0-0-0-0, Weber 0-1-2-1, Lukas 0-0-0-0, Stawick 0-1-2-1. TOTALS: 20-6-10-50.
Moravian A. 7 8 4 10 - 29
Marian 12 10 15 13 - 50
Three-pointers: MA - Ender 2. M - Karnish 2, Kweder 1, Swankoski 1.