Aron Minkoff (@AronMinkoff)
In a clash of the top-two AAAA Philly public league teams, leadership and defense proved to be the two factors that separated the victors from their opponent.
In what sounds like a meeting of three of America’s most prominent historical figures, Martin Luther King and George Washington met at Benjamin Franklin High School in the quarterfinals of the Public League playoffs.
The defending Public League champions Martin Luther King Cougars used an intense full-court press and the leadership of senior Sammy Foreman to prevail over the George Washington Eagles, 59-46.
For Cougars coach Sean Colson it is about more than just one win, it is about building up the program that he took over in 2012.
“We don’t celebrate,” Colson said. “We don’t really play for semifinals, we play for championships. We are trying to build a tradition that semifinals are great and all but that is not really the end goal for us. We want to win championships.”
Colson led the Cougars to the semifinals in his first year with the program before winning it all last year. While earning a berth in the state playoffs is a nice achievement for Colson, he is more concerned with finishing what they started, defending their pub title.
“I am actually a public league guy,” Colson said. “When I played [Franklin Learning Center], we won the championship back in 1992, Public League teams weren’t able to compete in state playoffs. I am a big public league guy. So for me, public league means a lot. States obviously mean a lot too because if you win you are the number one team in the entire state. For me, I don’t look at the Public League as a second thing or that it is under the states. They are about the same to me.”
The two teams looked evenly matched with the score 28-27 in favor of George Washington heading into halftime. Then the Cougars came out of the locker room to the tune of a 14-0 run and held the Eagles to just four points in the third quarter as they all but buried George Washington to take a 43-32 lead into the final quarter.
“We stepped up the defense and played a lot more aggressive on offense in the second half,” Colson said. “Really at the start of the second quarter we were down nine point and we got it to one and I was really happy and we did not really play well and we were only down one.”
King was led by Foreman, who contributed 17 points, but it was not his scoring that proved to be so vital for the Cougars. He ran the Cougars offense and played an all-around smart game as he picked up seven steals to lead to numerous fast-break opportunities for King.
A key turning point in the game occurred just about a minute into the second half. Eagles’ senior leader Charlie Brown fouled Foreman twice in back-to-back trips down the floor to pick up his third and fourth fouls which caused the 6-foot-5 forward to sit on the bench for a majority of the second half.
Brown led the Eagles in scoring with 11 points, all of which came in the first half before he got into foul trouble.
“Attack. That was the mindset. Attack,” Foreman said. “I knew he was already in foul trouble and he’s the key piece to their team. I knew not too many people can stop me in the open floor because either I’ll score or get fouled.”
Foreman was not shy in expressing his feelings on the Eagles’ defense, yelling out midway through the third quarter, “They can’t guard me.”
“He [Foreman] played great defense on Charlie Brown, one of the best players in the city, Catholic or public league,” Colson said. “He got people the ball, he just played a great game tonight. Obviously Sammy is the leader and we really needed a big game from him tonight and he gave it to us.”
Also for the Cougars, junior Jabri McCall contributed 16 points on 4-7 shooting, including an impressive 3-4 from three-point range. McCall did struggle at the free-throw line, making just five of his 12 trips to the line.
In the absence of Brown, the Eagles were led by senior Elmange Watson and junior Quadere Allen. The two guards contributed 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Martin Luther King will play AAA champ Imhotep on Tuesday, both teams have clinched a spot in the PIAA playoffs.