Griffin Barrouk (above, number 23) suffered an ankle injury during the first quarter of the District 1 5A championship game. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
Fareed Burton had mixed emotions after Chester’s 62-46 win over West Chester Rustin on Wednesday night at the Clip Joint.
There was happiness, of course, at having helped deliver Chester’s first district title in seven years, a lengthy time for a program with 20-plus district titles already in its rich hoops history. But that was tempered by his thoughts for childhood friend Griffin Barrouk, the Rustin star guard who had to be taken away by ambulance after a scary first-quarter ankle injury.
“I know in the previous years he had ankle injuries, so I know for him to go back on an ankle injury again is scary, because he keeps hurting it over and over,” said Burton, who was Barrouk’s AAU teammate as elementary schoolers back in 2013. “I just want to make sure he’s okay.”
Barrouk, a 6-foot-5 guard and Hofstra signee, went down with just over a minute left in the first quarter while chasing down a loose ball. The energetic Chester cheering section went silent immediately as trainers and coaches rushed to Barrouk’s side, stabilizing his right ankle with an inflatable cast.
Fareed Burton (above) had mixed emotions about the night after his team won the District 1 championship and his friend went down with an injury. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
“[I told him] that I loved him,” Rustin coach Keith Cochran said. “It’s just a sad situation, it’s a sick feeling, it’s like one of my kids.”
One fan broke the silence, calling out “Chester loves you Griff,” and the crowd supported that statement with applause. Several minutes later, Barrouk was carried out of the still-quiet gym and taken to Crozer-Chester Medical Center; the remaining Rustin players huddled on the sideline to figure out how they were going to manage the remainder of the District 1 5A title game.
The Golden Knights were already without starting center Jacob Barksdale, who went down a couple minutes before Barrouk with an ankle injury of his own, less serious but still game-ending. Now they’d have to go the rest of the way without their Division I-bound star, who was fresh off a 30-point game against Unionville in the district semifinals.
Barrouk had missed large parts of his sophomore and junior seasons with various other injuries, the result of growing from a 5-10 freshman up to his current height. He’d finally gotten into the best shape of his career and was showing it with seven early points against Chester, including a couple tough drives and a deep 3-pointer the possession before his injury.
“As soon as he’s getting healthy,” Cochran said. “It’s just tough...we just had to fight for him.”
The Golden Knights did put up a strong effort without their top two players. Trailing by three after one quarter, Rustin held Chester to only three field goals in the second quarter, with four different players scoring in the frame.
James Chobany popped off the bench for eight points, all in the second quarter; his steal-and-layup just ahead of the halftime buzzer cut Chester’s lead to 31-30.
“My kids battled, I mean, they showed me a lot,” Cochran said. “Griff would be proud of them, he would be really proud of these guys.”
Ultimately, Rustin’s short-handedness caught up to them.
Karell Watkins (above) led all scorers with 24 points. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Chester senior big man Karell Watkins scored 11 of his game-high 24 points in the third quarter, an eight minutes the Clippers dominated, turning that one-point advantage into a 52-36 lead by the start of the fourth quarter. Chester’s full-court press forced 17 Rustin turnovers, and a Clippers attack that was 3-point heavy in the first half only took two treys after the break.
“He’s a monster on the boards, he’s our go-to guy, why not get him the ball? That’s my thing,” Chester coach Keith Taylor said. “(Watkins) has to have the basketball in his hands. They double down on him, then that opens everything up for everyone else. We’ve got to start inside instead of starting outside.”
There was no raucous celebration at the end, the Chester players understanding that their latest district title came on a tough night for their opponent. But the school’s first District 1 5A championship — their other titles all came in the old AAAA classification, before the state went to six classifications last decade — was certainly an accomplishment for Taylor’s program, which now becomes the district’s only entrant into the PIAA Class 5A Tournament.
One of only eight teams still in competition for the 5A state championship, Chester will host District 2 5A champion Crestwood (17-1) on Friday night.
“(Districts were) the second part of our goal that we set out to attain, our third goal is the state championship,” Taylor said. “Now we have to try to refocus tomorrow in practice to get ready for the first round of the states. Can’t get a state championship if you don’t get the first one.”
Chester: 18 | 13 | 21 | 10 || 62
Rustin: 15 | 15 | 6 | 10 || 46
Chester: 22-47 FG (4-12 3PT), 14-23 FT
Rustin: 18-45 FG (3-11 3PT), 6-11 FT
Chester: Watkins 24, F. Burton 14, J. Burton 11, Womack 5, Horsey 4, Jerkins 2, Freeman 2
Rustin: Chobary 8, Reinheimer 8, Barrouk 7, Sleschsinger 7, Shivers 5, Freney 4, Sproull 4, Shoup 2