Corky Blake (@CorkyBlake)
More than an hour before tip-off Friday night, Andre Noble was the first Imhotep Charter representative to step on the court at Easton Area Middle School. The Panthers’ veteran head coach slowly walked to midcourt and surveyed the 3,000-seat gym prior to their PIAA Class 5A quarterfinal game against District 2 champion Abington Heights.
When Noble was asked if he was looking for something, he quietly said, “No, I’m trying to think if we’ve ever played here before. I don’t think so … and we’ve played in a lot of places.”
Illinois, Florida, Massachusetts, the Bronx – and that’s just this season.
Noble and Imhotep can now add Easton to their list of facilities where they’ve walked out of with an impressive victory. They improved to 28-3 by parlaying a 34-8 dominance in the middle quarters to put away Abington Heights, 65-38, and set up a District 12 championship rematch against Archbishop Ryan.
Ahmad Nowell (above, in Jan.) and Imhotep shut down Abington Heights after a close first quarter. (Photo: Gavin Bethell/CoBL)
Archbishop Ryan, which lost to Imhotep 69-58 on March 2 in the District 12 5A title game, dealt District 1 champion Radnor its first loss of the season, 69-65, in a game that concluded well after the Panthers’ triumph over the Comets (23-5) and left the District 12 champion unsure of who its Monday night opponent would be.
Regardless, Imhotep remained on track to achieving its perennial season goals with the first three leading to the fourth.
“Our goals are to win the (Philadelphia Public) league, the district and state championships and get a high national ranking,” Noble said. “And if we do, that (national ranking) will take care of itself.”
Defending their Class 5A state championship and securing the program’s ninth overall since 2009 is of the utmost importance, said 6-1 junior guard Ahmad Nowell, who was 3-for-4 from 3-point range and finished with 11 points Friday.
“That is our last and final goal because we have seven seniors on the team, and we want to help them go out on top,” Nowell said before leaving to speak with a coach from Villanova. He currently holds offers from Tennessee, Auburn, Kansas and Memphis.
One of those seniors, Justin Edwards, stayed out on the court long after the final buzzer to sign autographs and pose for pictures with young fans, many of whom had been cheering for Abington Heights, located just north of Scranton.
Edwards, ranked the No. 1 player in the Class of 2023 according to ESPN, has signed with Kentucky, but the 6-7 swingman was totally locked in on the task at hand. He scored the Panthers’ first 12 points when the Comets were still playing with confidence and believing they could pull off the upset of the tournament.
“We knew they had a lot of good 3-point shooters, and we had to get out on them,” Edwards said. “I got on our team about that.”
Entering the final minute of the first quarter, Abington Heights was tied with the Panthers at 12-all on the strength of four 3s. Nowell and freshman reserve Zaahir Muhammad-Gray sandwiched 3s around a drive by the Comets’ Will Marion to send the Panthers into the second quarter with an 18-14 advantage.
Abington Heights managed just one field goal in the second quarter. Imhotep’s harassing defense forced seven turnovers, and its length led to numerous second-chance points and trips to the foul line.
“In the first quarter we came out slow and didn’t get out on their shooters,” Noble said. “We knew what they were going to do. We held them to two points in the second quarter because our guys closed up on them on defense.”
Defense is priority No. 1 for anyone who chooses to play for Imhotep. Nowell learned that right away when he joined the program as a sophomore.
“You got to play defense, and a lot of it is heart,” Nowell said. “That’s just being a point guard in Philadelphia. It’s about pride. Wherever you play, you don’t want to let anyone get over on you.”
“Every game, every night … all our guys need to focus on defense,” Noble said.
Abington Heights scored only six more points in the third quarter. Nowell matched that with a pair of 3s.
Justin Edwards (above, in Jan.) threw down an equally big dunk on Friday. (Photo: Gavin Bethell/CoBL)
But the eight-minute session truly belonged to Edwards. Here’s a breakdown of his third quarter:
Follow up a teammate’s miss. Two points.
Muscle his way inside for a basket. Four points.
Block an Abington Heights shot, grab the ball, dribble the length of the court and bank in a 360-degree layup. Six points and plenty of “oohs” from the crowd.
Convert another turnover into a monstrous left-handed slam. Eight points, a gym-full of “ahhs” and a comment from a long-time Easton athletic administrator: “it might be the best dunk I’ve ever seen in here.”
A 3-pointer with 21 seconds left in the quarter. Eleven points and a 56-22 lead.
Edwards stayed in for all of 31 seconds of the fourth quarter. He sank a foul-line jumper and departed to the bench with 31 points on 13-for-18 shooting (2-for-5 from 3) and 3-for-3 from the free throw line.
“When I’m playing good I’m doing everything – rebounding, blocking shots, scoring, passing,” Edwards said. “It’s crazy, one of my old (AAU) coaches told me like two years ago ‘no one wants a 6-7 dude who just shoots.’ I thought about it, and that’s when I decided I wanted to be an all-around player.”
The victory extended Imhotep’s winning streak to 12 games. The Panthers rolled through the Public League playoffs by winning its five games by a 75-35 margin. In its two previous state wins, the Panthers won by a 44-point average.
Now, it comes down to a two-game season for Imhotep. First up is Archbishop Ryan primed for revenge. The winner then will advance to the championship game next Friday in Hershey.
“At this time of the year you just want to keep your main guys healthy, so it was great to get the younger guys minutes,” Noble said.
Imhotep Charter: 18 | 14 | 24 | 9 || 65
Abington Heights: 14 | 2 | 6 | 16 || 38
Imhotep Charter: 23-51 FGA (9-21 3PT), 10-13 FT
Abington Heights: 12-39 FGA (7-24 3PT), 7-9 FT
Imhotep Charter: Justin Edwards 31, Ahmad Nowell 11, Rahmir Barno 6, Ma’Kye Taylor 1, Yahmir Satterfield 3, Baasil Saunders 4, Malcom Muhammad 3, Zaahir Muhammad-Gray 6.
Abington Heights: Mason Fedor 7, Will Marion 5, Patrick Walsh 3, Nealon 6, Robby Lucas 7, Jordan Shaffer 8, Zach Brister 2