Kevin Funston (above) returned to his alma mater to coach Bonner to a first-round PIAA playoff win. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Kevin Callahan (@CP_KCallahan)
PHILADELPHIA – Kevin Funston, the youthful but successful Bonner-Prendergast coach, certainly didn’t need a reminder how special Kelly Fieldhouse was to him.
Neither did his team, as the Friars embarked on their memorable playoff run to the state championship game last year here at St. Joseph’s Prep School.
“It’s surreal to be in that locker room and they had a nice message, ‘good luck today coach, good luck Bonner-Prendie,’ Funston said about the uplifting words written on the chalkboard.
This massive, dimly-lit gym with the cheerful locker room message brightened Funston’s pregame demeanor even more, since he played at the Prep for Speedy Morris.
However, even with all the good vibrations bouncing around the locker room before their Class 4A first-round playoff game, the Friars barely had a hop in their step to start the game before flooring Eastern York 78-50.
Perhaps, Bonner-Prendergast was looking ahead or maybe even looking behind, but whatever was the culprit, the Friars weren’t in the present.
Until they were losing.
After trailing with two minutes left in the first quarter, District 12 champion Bonner-Prendergast used a blinding 30-3 run over a 10:35 stretch from late in the first quarter to early in the third to seize a decisive 25-point lead against the overmatched District 3 No. 5 seed Eastern York.
“It was a wake up call,” said Friars senior guard Tyreese Watson, who scored 16 of his team’s 34 points in the first half and outscored Eastern York by five points in the first 16 minutes. “We knew we had to get our energy up in the beginning of the game.”
Bonner-Prendergast (19-5) would be served well to use its game-changing quickness in the second round against District 2 No. 2 seed Valley View (18-8) on Tuesday.
“We didn’t play to our full potential,” said Watson, who finished with 18 points. “The next game we will be even better.”
With the bench already playing for Funston, the Friars padded their lead to 60-25 after three quarters over the Knights (16-10).
“Anytime we can get everybody into the game and everybody’s scoring and touching the ball, it is a good team win,” Funston said.
And a good night for Funston.
“This place, I have such great memories,” Funston said afterwards. “All my best friends, I played with on the team. It’s really special to come here and sit on that bench and I tell those guys that I don’t like to lose here and they helped me out.”
Funston was a year ahead of Roman Catholic coach Matt Griffin at the Prep.
“Yeah, I taught him everything he knows,” quipped Funston with a smile.
Funston, who won the Catholic League Coach of the Year honors, was a team manager at Pittsburgh under Jamie Dixon from 2006 to 2010.
“We were really good, we’re (ranked) number one in the country,” Funston said. “Villanova beat us on a buzzer beater up in Boston by Scottie Reynolds.
“Reggie Redding, who I played with at the Prep, was on that Nova team at the time and we used to talk trash.”
The Friars, who lost to Imhotep Charter in last year’s state final, let their quickness do the talking against Easter York. They started playing like a state finalist as they outscored the Knights 28-3 over the final 9:35 of the first half for a staggering 34-11 lead at the break.
Tyreese Watson (above, in Feb.) and Bonner turned it on after a slow start. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
“It’s motivation for sure,” said Watson about returning to the state championship game. “We’ve got to get back there and win it all this year.”
Last week, in the District 12 Class 4A city title game, Watson collected 14 points with five rebounds as Bonner-Prendergast posted a 64-58 win over Imhotep at La Salle College High.
“This is our year to do it,” Watson added about playing for the state title.
The Friars, who start five guards not taller than 6-foot-3, used their quickness to open a double digit lead early in the second quarter, scoring multiple times off steals out of their 1-3-1 three-quarter court. A steal at half court by James Welde and a dunk padded the Friars’ tardy advantage to 20-11 lead.
“We used it a little bit from time to time, but it’s not something I feel super confident with,” Funston said about the uniquely spaced zone. “We used it a little bit against Roman in the playoffs and against Imhotep, but we’re still trying to figure it out.
“We try not to use it too much until I feel it’s something I can trust.”
Watson, who played the point in the 1-3-1, was complemented by the defensive speed and tenacity of seniors Donovan Rodriguez (16 points), Oscar Uduma and Conner Eagan, and junior Malik Edwards.
“We have the players to do it, which is nice,” Funston added about the 1-3-1 zone. “We’re really fast and we have a lot of interchangeable players and the kids play really hard.
“You can run anything when the kids play hard.”
The athletic dunk by Welde dazed the Knights as the one-handed jam ignited a 16-0 run over the final 4:50 of the first half.
“It got us pumped up to see him dunk,” said Watson, who is undecided on college next year. “We all knew he could dunk, but dunking in a game that’s something we haven’t seen.”
Bonner-Prendergast, which has won nine of its last 11 games, with a pair of losses by a bucket, started sluggishly against Eastern York’s 3-2 zone until Watson slashed in the lane and scored on 3-point for a 9-8 lead with 1:35 left in the first quarter. Rodriguez added two free throws and a 3-pointer at the buzzer for a 14-8 lead after one quarter.
“The first few minutes were more like let’s get a feel for how they play and they made some tough shots,” Funston said.
“And they played zone and we weren’t going to settle for threes,” Funston said. “So we knew the first few minutes will be a little sluggish, so we just want to play aggressive and let our defense take us over the top.”
Last season, the Friars beat Imhotep in the District 12 4A championship game, but lost in the state championship game 67-56. The Friars also lost Isaiah Wong (University of Miami) and Tariq Ingraham (Wake Forest), plus starters Mike Peretta and Chris Haynes to graduation.
“It was a lot of fun for a program last year,” Funston said. “And, I think it brought the team closer than ever, but it’s a different team and it’s completely different teams around the state you play.
“Representing the school on a high-level is really a fun experience and the kids are loving it,” Funston said.
Just like the coach loves playing at his alma mater.
“We knew,” Watson said, “that we had to get a win for him in this game.”
Bonner-Prendergast 78, Eastern York 40
Valley View 70, Athens 58
Archbishop Carroll 44, Bethlehem Catholic 42
Bishop McDevitt 78, Wilson Area 58
Allentown CC 47, South Philadelphia 26
Pope John Paul II 56, John Bartram 46
Tamaqua Area 48, Danville 42
Susquehanna Twp. 64, Scranton Prep 54
Imhotep Charter 70, ELCO 60
Montoursville 66, Nanticoke 51
Lancaster Catholic 59, Ringgold 56
Belle Vernon 65, Clearfield 60
Highlands 50, Harbor Creek 40
Grove City 59, Bedford 43
Huntingdon 70, Blackhawk 57
Hickory 58, New Castle 48