Nisine Poplar (above, in Jan.) scored 30 points off the bench to lead MCS to a comeback win over GW. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Carter Fillman (@JC_Fillman)
This is a special group of seniors for Math Civics and Sciences coach Lonnie Diggs.
After all, it can be hard to part with a group of players that brought Diggs’ first PIAA Class 2A State Championship as a head coach (the Mighty Elephants won in 2011 with Diggs as an assistant), capturing the title last March. So despite it being the second round of the Public League playoffs, Diggs went with his five seniors to start, leaving standout junior guard Nisine Poplar as a reserve.
“It’s a great group of guys, we’ve been through a lot,” Diggs said. “Out of the six we have, I think four, five of them have been here since ninth grade. It's always good to have guys come through your program and see them graduate, just see them come up the ranks.
“So, it was a good day.”
It was a good day indeed, as MCS rebounded from a first half deficit and rolled to a 74-64 victory over George Washington in a game that saw each member of that senior starting group score at least two points.
But while it was a day to celebrate the senior class and with half time celebrations concluded, it was time for Poplar to take the stage. With his team trailing by a point coming out of the half, Poplar nailed a three to give the Mighty Elephants’ a two point lead, one which they never looked back from.
“He’s special, man,” Diggs said. “For a kid to only be playing basketball for two years to be able to play at the level that he plays at...I mean, I've never seen nothing like it.”
Poplar, who picked up an offer from Auburn after the game to go along with those from VCU, Virginia Tech, St. Joe’s, Temple and more, went on to put on a showcase of athleticism and skill as he scored 20 of his game-high 30 points in the second half, utilizing his elite vertical and explosiveness to score around the basket. If a couple of his poster dunk attempts fell instead of resulting in a foul, it’s not clear whether or not Imhotep Charter would still be standing.
Washington was able to take advantage of a slower second quarter pace, as senior guard Nyreese Moore scored eight of his team's 12 points in the quarter to take a 32-31 lead into the half. Credit goes to Moore (18 points) and fellow senior guard Levon Brown (19 points) for setting the tempo and never letting the game truly slip away.
But the Mighty Elephants did come out a little sluggish, something Diggs addressed after the game.
“We just had to ramp up on our intensity a little bit,” he said. “I think in the first half those guys just played harder than we did.”
While the Mighty Elephants were able to bounce back from this deficit, Diggs mentioned it will be consistency that could bar them from their goal of a Public League and State Championships.
MCS will play Boys’ Latin in Thursday’s quarterfinals, 7 PM at Imhotep. Imhotep or Olney await the winner in the semifinals, at South Philadelphia on Feb. 19.
“[We have to work on] maintaining our focus,” Diggs said. “We play the way we did maybe the last twelve minutes, we gotta put that together for longer stretches. We’ve been inconsistent all year, but when we’re playing well, playing consistent, we’re tough to beat.”
MCS: 21 | 10 | 22 | 21 | 74
GW: 20 | 12 | 9 | 23 | 64
MCS: 27-52 FG, 3-14 3PT, 17-21 FT
GW: 24-56 FG, 10-23 3PT, 6-14 FT
MCS: Poplar 30, Jones 18, Middleton 12, Wood 6, Edwards 2, Barron 2, Fleming 2, Nixon 2
GW: Brown 19, Moore 18, Butler 9, Sydnor 9, Hardy 6, Ramsey 3
Andre Noble (above) is hoping his younger group can make the deep playoff run of 'Tep squads past. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Ari Glazier (@AriGlazier)
For a program like imhotep Charter that has won three straight state championships, the success of a season is measured in hardware, not regular season wins. So, while the Panthers just missed a Public League ‘A’ regular season title, losing on a tiebreaker to Simon Gratz, coach Andre Noble has high hopes for the last stretch of his squad’s campaign.
“I told them at the end of our regular season, we have five losses, we had five losses last year at the same point,” Noble said. “This program is always defined by what we do in the playoffs.”
Imhotep came one step closer to playoff glory on Tuesday night, when they handily defeated Palumbo 60-40 at home. The game looked like it could have been tighter than anticipated initially, with Palumbo jumping out to a 6-5 lead halfway through the first quarter. Imhotep made sure that would be their last lead of the game, going on a 12-2 run to close out the quarter up 17-8. By halftime, that margin had ballooned up to 32-17.
Notre Dame commit Elijah Taylor had a strong offensive outing, scoring 13 points on 4-for-6 shooting, but the 6-9 senior was even more effective defensively. He blocked six shots and altered even more, forcing Palumbo to exchange would be looks at the rim for less efficient shots. Taylor also notched a double-double, recording 10 boards.
Noble acknowledged that given his excellent field goal percentage, Taylor should have had a more central role in the Panther offense.
“When he's active, we’ve got to do a better job of getting him the ball offensively,” Noble said. “he's a really tough kid to handle. And when we play off of him is when we're at our best.”
With Taylor’s frontourt partner, Kamhron Roundtree leaving the game early with an injury, freshman forward Justin Edwards took on an expanded role. He answered the call, finishing with a team-high 14 points on 5-for-8 shooting, as well as nine rebounds.
For Palumbo, senior Ibrahim Kane did much of the heavy lifting. He scored a game high 18 points, going 6-for-16 from the field. His 10 points at halftime made up for more than half of Palumbo’s scoring. The 6-5 forward was active on the glass, grabbing seven rebounds.
Imhotep advances to the Pub. quarterfinals, where they will meet up with Olney, who finished first in the ‘B’ division and beat Sankofa by seven in the second round.
While Imhotep doesn’t have the same firepower they’ve had in the last few years, with four Division I players graduating from last year and a young core remaining around Taylor, they’re still a frontrunner in the Pub, with one of its most talented players in Taylor. This group will have its opportunity to stand toe to toe with Imhotep teams of old in the coming weeks.
Imhotep: 19-50 FG, 5-18 3PT, 16-22 FT
Palumbo: 16-57 FG, 4-12 3PT, 4-9 FT
Imhotep: Reid 13, Barno 7, Edwards 14, Taylor 13, Harley 2, Raphael 7, Wylie 4
Palumbo: Farlar 10, Fagans 2, Kane 18, Scarborough 4, Quinn 6
In other Public League second-round action…
Boys’ Latin 76, West Philly 73
Olney 67, Sankofa 54
King 70, Future 50
Lincoln 72, South Philly 49
Bartram 55, Overbrook 48
Simon Gratz 70, SLA Beeber 35
Quarterfinal Matchups; Feb. 13:
Gratz vs. Bartram (3:15 PM @ Gratz)
Lincoln vs. King (3:15 PM @ Lincoln)
Imhotep vs. Olney (5:30 PM @ Imhotep)
MCS vs. Boys' Latin (7:00 PM @ Imhotep)