By Pat Leonard

Nailbiters played in front of big crowds highlighted the opening day of the four-day Jameer Nelson/Pete Nelson Play by Play Classic basketball tournament Saturday at Widener University.

The tournament started off with a bang as Strawberry Mansion of the Public League narrowly edged Girard College of the Bicentennial Athletic League, 74-72, in the first of five games at Schwartz Center.

Later in the day, Norristown nipped West Chester Rustin, and Archbishop Carroll tripped Bartram. 

Later, Friends Central played Life Center, and Plymouth Whitemarsh tangled with Chester. Check back for those results.

Girard College star guard John Johnson, who is committed to Pittsburgh, scored 43 points for the Cavaliers, but Strawberry Mansion's senior guard D.J. Newbill dropped 22 points and made the game-winning shot - a three-pointer with 15 seconds remaining and his team down 72-70.

Johnson missed two crucial free throws with six seconds to play, and Mansion successfully inbounded and made one of two for the win.

Newbill was named honorable mention on the Inquirer's all-Southeastern Pa. team last season as a junior. Stan Laws, who is co-coaching Mansion along with Gerald Hendricks this season, said at the beginning of the season that Newbill is receiving interest from Nebraska, Marquette, Florida State, LaSalle and Drexel.

Strawberry Mansion will not play again in the four-day Nelson Classic showcase. Girard College will play back-to-back days, with a matchup against Archbishop Wood at 3:30 at Gwynedd Mercy College on Sunday.

Second Game: Norristown 67, Rustin 62
A near-full Schwartz Center was buzzing after the Nelson Classic’s second game ended in thrilling fashion, with Norristown beating West Chester Rustin, 67-62, in overtime.

Rustin junior forward Cory Blake made a layup with 8.7 seconds left to tie the game at 56 and send it to overtime, but Eagles senior guard Sheldon Mayer hit a three-pointer to open scoring in the extra period, and Norristown never trailed thereafter.

Norristown senior guard/forward Jahquil Hargrove led all scorers with 21 points, while Blake led Rustin scorers with 15.

The momentum shifted permanently in overtime with Norristown up 61-58 and 1:30 to play. Norristown missed two free throws, but Eagles junior guard Tyreese White stole the ball in the backcourt and converted a layup for the 63-58 lead.

Then, on the ensuing possession, Rustin’s high-flying Blake (6-foot-4) went strong to the basket and was met by the 6-foot tall White, who pinned the ball against the backboard and was whistled for the foul but drew oohs and ahhs from the crowd.

Rustin led by a point at the end of the third quarter, due in part to Blake slamming home an alley-oop on a designed play, but Norristown met Rustin at the rim and pulled this one out. 

Third Game: Archbishop Carroll 60, Bartram 57
Archbishop Carroll junior Juan’ya Green scored 24 points and got a hand in the face Bartram’s Tyrone Garland as he attempted a three-pointer to tie at the buzzer, forcing the Braves’ star into a traveling violation and sealing the victory for the Patriots of the
Catholic League.

Carroll senior point guard D.J. Irving added 21 points, and he and Green each shot 8 of 9 from the foul line to withstand Bartram’s 22-point fourth quarter outburst, which was courtesy primarily of  Garland, who finished with a game-high 26 points and scored 12 points in the fourth.

Bartram, however, scored just 21 points in the second and third quarters combined, as Irving took over with his ball-handling, penetration and foul-shooting, finding Green and senior forward Ben Mingledough (nine points) or just taking it to the rim himself to give Carroll a 32-22 halftime lead and a 42-35 advantage at the end of the third quarter.

Bartram’s Zaahir Allen (11 points) and Quasim Jones (10 points) also contributed for the Braves.

Senior forward Darrell Lane (five points), who shot 1 of 6 from the free throw line the rest of the game, made two huge free throws with 30.2 seconds remaining to close Carroll’s lead to 58-57.

But after a Green turnover, Bartram couldn’t get three shots to go on the next possession, and Irving made two free throws for the Patriots to create the final margin.

The tournament continues today at Gwynedd-Mercy College with these games: 
Wissahickon vs. St. Joseph’s Prep, noon
Cheltenham vs. La Salle, 1:45 p.m.
Girard College vs. Archbishop Wood, 3:30