David Beatty (above) had 19 points and nine steals as Imhotep advanced to the PIAA state semifinals. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
David Beatty’s ability to score the ball is unquestioned.
The Imhotep Charter senior, a muscular 6-foot-3, 180-pound guard, is a consensus four-star prospect and headed to South Carolina primarily for his ability to get buckets from all three levels, no matter what the defense throws at him.
When he flashes that same ability on the defensive end, there’s not many around that are better.
Against Audenried Charter in a PIAA Class 4A state quarterfinal matchup, Beatty’s 19 points came in handy -- but his nine steals were even more deadly, helping his Panthers run away for a 70-51 victory at Temple University’s Liacouras Center.
“I’m just trying to figure out how to make my game an all-around game, become great on the defensive side and become great on the offensive side,” he said. “You can’t give somebody 40 and somebody gives you 50, you’re not a great player.”
Beatty's defensive effort led a lockdown performance for the Panthers, who came away with 15 steals on the afternoon as Audenried often had a hard time getting into its half-court offense.
“When Dave is locked into playing defense that way, whether it’s on or off the ball, we’re probably unbeatable,” Imhotep assistant Tahar Sutton said afterwards; head coach Andre Noble left immediately following the win to scout the Panthers’ potential semifinal opponent. “That’s how I feel about it. When he’s doing that, either on the ball or off of it, there’s not many teams in the country that’s going to beat us.”
That defense leads to good offense is a known basketball cliché, but certainly one with its roots in fact, though it can be tough for young athletes to realize.
Beatty was helped along in that process by watching his future Gamecock teammates play in the NCAA Tournament, where they beat Marquette by 20 in the first round and will take on Duke later Sunday evening.
“Oh yeah, South Carolina goes super-hard,” he said. “My mentality is just going as hard as them, because they give it all they’ve got, I’ve got to up my motor.”
Rhode Island commit Daron Russell led Imhotep with 24 points and sophomore Donte Scott added 15 and nine rebounds as the Panthers (29-2) advance to the state semifinals for the third consecutive year.
They’ll take on either West Philadelphia or Greater Nanticoke on Tuesday night at a location and time still to be determined.
But the No. 6 team in the country according to USA Today won’t be satisfied with anything less than a state championship.
“We want to get to Hershey, we want to win a state title, and we just want to do what great teams do and we want to put our stamp on the Philly name,” Beatty said.
For Audenried Charter (19-5), the loss was the end of a breakthrough season for head coach Kenyatta Bey’s Rockets, who won 15 straight at one point and advanced further in the state tournament than any of its predecessors.
All five starters will graduate, however, leaving Bey with a major rebuilding task ahead.
“I’m extremely proud of our guys,” he said. “They fought their hearts out, played hard for me all season and they don’t have anything to be ashamed of, I’m proud of them.”
It was close for the first 24 minutes but Audenried’s biggest worry came true early in the fourth, when senior guard and 1,000-point scorer Nisheem McNeal-Wright fouled out after scoring 19 points through the first three quarters.
The Rockets scored just four points the rest of the way.
“(McNeal-Wright is) our leader, he plays his heart out, he gives his all in practice and in games,” Bey said. “So you know, it did a lot when we lost him. It affected us a lot.”
That it was nip-and-tuck for the first three quarters was a surprise to either side, as the the Panthers barely held off the Rockets in the Public League 4A finals, winning 74-69 back on Feb. 13.
Imhotep led this one 17-14 after one, 37-34 after two and 52-47 after three, though not without Audenried holding multiple small leads throughout the course of the game.
But once McNeal-Wright fouled out, Audenried couldn’t find the offense to keep up with Russell, Beatty and Scott, or to overcome the Panthers’ tough-as-nails defense.
“I think we just had more will and just realized that they were a tough team and just realized they were going to come at us and they weren’t going to lay down,” Beatty said. “So we just had to put our foot on their throat and keep pushing.”