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PCL Playoffs: Kevair Kennedy leads Father Judge to semifinals for first time in 25 years

02/17/2024, 12:50am EST
By Andrew Robinson

Andrew Robinson (@ADrobinson3)

WARMINSTER — Mired in a free-throw slump a few years back, Father Judge guard Kevair Kennedy’s new coach offered him some help.

Little did Chris Roantree know it at the time, but that little bit of advice would pay again and again and again — 17 out of 18 times really — in the fourth quarter of a Philadelphia Catholic League Tournament quarterfinal with his program’s first trip to the Palestra in 25 years on the line. Kennedy kept stepping to the line, kept doing his routine and kept knocking down free throw after free throw, with each inching Judge a little further away from Archbishop Wood and a little closer to Penn’s campus.

Kennedy scored 33 points, his remarkable composure at the foul line delivering No. 6-seed Father Judge a 78-71 win over No. 3 Archbishop Wood on Friday night.

“It started with Coach Chris, my freshman year I wasn’t shooting it that good but that summer he told me take a few dribbles, and ever since I just stuck with that,” Kennedy said. “It’s breathe three times, dribble, dribble, dribble, spin it, breathe then shoot.”

Kennedy was shocked when he was told of his fourth-quarter free-throw shooting numbers. For the game, the junior guard was 18-of-20 at the line and 4-of-6 from the field for what was likely one of the most efficient 33-point outings in PCL history.

Father Judge's Kevair Kennedy was 18 of 20 at the foul line and had 33 points in Friday's Catholic League Tournament win over Archbishop Wood. (Photo: Andrew Robinson/CoBL)

“Seventeen? Of 18? That’s crazy,” Kennedy said. “I thought it was like eight, I didn’t know it was 17 of 18. I got too excited, I looked at the scoreboard and lost focus.”

Wood’s gym has been pretty kind to Kennedy. He had a buzzer-beater to down Central York on the same floor last year, and with nary a miss to his credit on Friday, the junior couldn’t hide a smile when his success in Warminster was brought up.

“I don’t know, it might be the rims, they must have soft rims,” Kennedy said.

The win sends Judge to the Palestra for the first time since 1999, when the Crusaders’ current coach was a senior on the team. It also sets up a rematch with top-seeded Roman Catholic, the Crusaders’ win over the Cahillites last month putting the rest of the PCL on notice they were looking for big things this year.

Roantree, who had to step into the gym where he was an assistant coach and helped Wood to two PCL titles and its first state title, beat his mentor and one of his best friends in Vikings coach John Mosco. In the regular season, Roantree lamented a brief stretch where his team lost its composure and let Wood take over the game.

His message Friday night was to not let that happen again.

“We lost our composure the first time we played them,” Roantree said. “When I say composure, I don’t mean not being crazy but not making the right plays. I think that one-minute stretch of that first game, we kept talking about composure when we watched film this week.”

Judge came out ready, the Crusaders bagging the first seven points of the game with all of them either scored or assisted by Kennedy. The junior, announced as a First Team All-PCL selection earlier this week, carried his coach’s message of composure to the letter.

Whether it was the foul line, making shots, handling the ball or playing defense, Kennedy played cool. Roantree even told the guard that if he got frustrated, to come over to the sideline and yell at his coach instead of letting it impact his performance.

“It’s not about me coming back here or me vs. John, it’s about our guys against their guys,” Roantree said. “They have great players in Jalil (Bethea) and Josh (Reed), but we talked all week about how we had three All-Catholics too.

“We had a different game plan than the first time we played them, we defended really well, we shot the ball really well, we just made plays.”

Kennedy said the entire team took on a next play mentality during the game. The Crusaders on the floor huddled at every stoppage, stayed tight during timeouts and seemingly every time Wood made a run, they responded.

The Vikings came all the way back to take a 20-17 lead on a Mike Green 3-pointer with 1:45 left in the first, only for Kennedy to answer with a 3 to re-tie the game. A pair of Laquan Byrd free throws gave Judge a 22-21 lead after eight minutes.

An 11-2 run from the 6:09 to 4:00 mark of the second quarter pushed the Crusaders’ lead to 10, 36-26, giving the visitors the necessary cushion to respond when Wood cut into that advantage.

“We lost to them last time, and I felt like that was my fault,” Kennedy said. “I had to get it back. I made sure I prepared for this battle today.”

Mosco was frustrated with his team’s performance. The Wood coach also felt like his team didn’t get a favorable whistle, citing the efforts of Reed inside not yielding many free throws but adding that wasn’t what decided the game.

The slow start, coupled with what the coach called selfish play, did.

“I don’t think we played efficiently, we didn’t guard, we let (Derrick) Morton-Rivera get a lot of looks and he made the shots,” Mosco said. “We didn’t share the ball a lot, not as much as we should, and we allowed them to dictate the pace and dictate the game to us, which I didn’t feel we dictated to them.”

Wood now finds itself in an unusual state. The Vikings’ season isn’t officially over, pending the results of next week’s PCL semifinals where a Roman Catholic win would put them into a District 12 Class 6A seeding game but a Judge win would keep them out entirely.

Reed led the Vikings with 19. Senior Bethea had 16, but the Miami-bound guard had an off night which was compounded by aggressive defense from Judge led by Morton-Rivera.

Judge led by seven at the half and five at the end of the third quarter. Morton-Rivera played a great game on both ends, scoring 19 points and defending well until foul trouble caught up to him early in the fourth quarter.

The Crusaders only made one shot in the fourth but got to the line 26 times, connecting on 23 of those attempts. It got them to Penn, where the alumni base will likely be out in full force as they look to get a second win against Roman in as many tries this season Wednesday night.

“We had a lot of firsts this year,” Roantree said. “First time since ‘17 we got to the quarterfinals, first time since we had three All-Catholics since ‘17, first First Team All-Catholic since ‘17, it’s our best scoring average in the history of the program. We talked about taking the next steps as a program — before the game we talked about culture-changing wins, and that’s what we did tonight.”

By Quarter

Father Judge: 22 | 18 | 12 | 26 || 78

Archbishop Wood: 21 | 12 | 15 | 23 || 71


Father Judge: Kevair Kennedy 33, Derrick Morton-Rivera 19, Anthony Lilly 8, Laquan Byrd 6, Nazir Tyler 4, Everett Barnes 4, Rocco Westfield 4

Archbishop Wood: Josh Reed 19, Jalil Bethea 16, Mike Green 11, Deuce Maxey 10, Milan Dean 7, Tahir Howell 5, Brian Donahue 3


Catholic League Boys

1) Roman Catholic 71, 9) Cardinal O’Hara 32
5) Archbishop Ryan 51, 4) St. Joseph’s Prep 49
2) Neumann-Goretti 89, 7) Archbishop Carroll 83
6) Father Judge 78, 3) Archbishop Wood 71

1) Roman Catholic vs. 6) Father Judge
2) Neumann-Goretti vs. 5) Archbishop Ryan


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