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PIAA Class 5A: Imhotep ends Chichester's first state berth

03/09/2022, 12:00am EST
By Rich Flanagan

Rich Flanagan (@richflanagan33)

WYNDMOOR — When a coach has won seven state championships in his career, he has a pretty good idea about how to approach the additional season and the multitude of challenges that come with making a deep run in the PIAA Tournament. Andre Noble has established Imhotep Charter as not just the premiere program in the Philadelphia Public League, but one of the elites across the state.

Tuesday was the Panthers first state playoff game since March 10, 2020, and a lot has happened in the two years since. The 2020 PIAA basketball championships were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic then Imhotep was unable to compete due to contact tracing just before the tournament last year.

Despite all the distractions following the last two seasons, Noble has still applied a simple philosophy on how he wants this crop of Panthers to approach the state tournament and why teams can be led astray before games even tip off.

Justin Edwards (above) and Imhotep missed out on the state tournament a year ago. (Photo: Rich Flanagan/CoBL)

“We’re blessed to have an opportunity this year,” Noble said. “You appreciate it, but I told them this week that we’re only concerned with Chichester. When it comes to the state tournament, as soon as you start looking around and looking past guys, you go home.”

This group of Panthers, some of which were a part of that 2020 team that had its season cut short in the state quarterfinals, took that ideology, and ran with it. Justin Edwards poured in 10 of his 20 points in the third quarter while Ahmad Nowell hit five three-pointers on his way to 19 points as Imhotep put together a dominant 78-51 victory over Chichester in the opening round of the PIAA Class 5A Tournament at La Salle College High School.

Edwards hit a three-pointer from the wing then turned one of the Panthers’ 21 steals into a tough finish as part of a 16-0 run in the first quarter and Imhotep ran out to a 20-6 lead. Junior point guard Rahmir Barno dished out eight assists, including an alley-oop to Edwards during that first-quarter run, and recorded six steals on the night. Nowell hit his second trey then Mo Abdullah, who had four points and four steals, got involved with his first basket. In the second quarter, Ronny Raphael provided five of his nine points to push the lead to 20 points.

Imhotep (24-4) dropped a regular-season matchup to Abraham Lincoln, which they avenged in the Public League title game, then a second straight loss to IMG Academy (Fla.). It was a moment when Edwards, a three-year starter and a highly ranked 2023 recruit, felt the Panthers began playing like a team on a mission and since that time, they’ve rattled off 14 consecutive wins.

“We struggled at the beginning and lost some games we shouldn’t have,” Edwards said. “Toward the middle of the season, we picked it up and if we play the way we did in the third quarter and bottle that up, we should be good.”

After taking a 45-24 lead into the locker room at halftime, the Panthers put the game away in the third. Nowell started things off with a three from the corner then a pair of free throws then big man Chad Anglin converted inside, and the lead had grown to 52-24. Mazen Sayed sank a three from the wing to halt the run for Chichester (11-15), which was making its first-ever trip to the state tournament. Edwards answered with six of those 10 straight points in that quarter and the Panthers were in front, 62-29 at the 2:34 mark.

Junior guard Akhir Keys led the Eagles with 12 points, including six of the final 23 points for his side, and senior Isaiah Diggs scored 11 points off the bench for head coach Clyde Jones, who has taken three different programs to the PIAA Tournament. Back-to-back three-pointers from Keys and Diggs cut the deficit to 71-46.

Jones, who led Penn Wood to the 2009 PIAA Class 4A title then took Girard College to the 2017 Class A title game, will have all five starters (Sayed, Akhir Keys, Zaiyin Keys, Vince Wildrick, Eyan Thomas) returning next year following a historic run.

“They earned it and I really wanted them to have this experience so they can feel the state experience and what it’s like, especially against one of the top teams in the area,” Jones said. “It’s great for Chi and the basketball community there to have some positive things to talk about.”

The Panthers advance to take on Radnor, a 75-56 winner over Susquehannock behind a 38-point, 13-rebound performance from Jackson Hicke, in the second round on Friday night at a site to be announced. Just as Noble acknowledged the mindset previous teams have had in preparing for the state playoffs, he’s continuing to push this group to understand the expectations that come with representing a program that focuses on the task at hand better than most across the state.

“We just talk about what’s been successful with us in the past,” Noble said. “Somebody asked me what’s happening on the West side of the bracket, and I said I don’t even know, and I don’t even care. That’s not relevant for us. We’re focused solely on Friday.”

By Quarter
Chichester: 10 I 14 I 9 I 18 II 51
Imhotep: 28 I 17 I 21 I 12 II 78

Chichester: Akhir Keys 12, Isaiah Diggs 11, Vince Wildrick 5, Ian Johnson 5, Eddie Swinton 4, Eyan Thomas 4, Zaiyin Keys 4, Mazen Sayed 3, Derrick Robertson 2, Siddiq Oglesby 1

Imhotep: Justin Edwards 20, Ahmad Nowell 19, Devin Booker 10, Ronny Raphael 9, Rahmir Barno 7, Mo Abdullah 4, Yahmir Satterfield 4, Chad Anglin 2, Amaury Hunter 2, Malcolm Muhammad 1

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