Stephen Pianovich (@SPianovich)
Friends’ Central coach Ryan Tozer called Monday’s 68-57 win against the Haverford School the “most complete team effort” he’s seen out of his club in 10 games this season.
A look at the box score will show two players, D-I commits DeAndre Hunter and Chuckie Champion, combined for 55 of the team's 68 points – Hunter bagged 35 and had 10 rebounds, while Champion had 20. But the Friends’ Central offense is always going to be run through that duo.
Tozer was more pleased with how his team played defense and controlled the tempo of the game, which junior point guard Antone Walker had a lot to do with. Walker is in his first season as the Phoenix starting point guard and has turned into the team’s third scoring option. He notched 10 points in the win against the Fords, but in this offense, scoring is not his No. 1 job.
“He can shoot it. When his feet are set, he’s automatic. But he sees the floor well, and we want him to have that pass-first mentality,” Tozer said after his team improved to 6-4. “It’s a lot to ask, when our best two players are seniors and we’re asking our junior to kind of be our leader on the floor. But I’ve seen tremendous strides from him on the defensive end and taking care of the ball.”
As Tozer mentioned, Walker, like Hunter and Champion, can be lethal from beyond the 3-point arc. The Phoenix hit seven 3-pointers in Monday’s win and one belonged to Walker, though he had two more attempts roll out after being halfway through the rim.
Walker did have one of the game’s biggest 3-point plays, though.
After Hunter picked up three fouls in the first four minutes of the third quarter and went to the bench, the Fords went on a spirited run. Friends’ Central’s 12-point halftime lead was down to four and the team was in major need of a bucket. Following some empty possessions, Walker found a seam in the Haverford defense, got to the basket and finished while absorbing a foul.
The Fords eventually got within two points of the lead later in the quarter, and they may have taken it away from Friends’ Central without Walker’s and-1.
“I saw the floor was really spread open,” the 5-foot-10 Walker recalled. “We had our two bigs in the corners, and I kind of had the court vision to see there was no one in the paint. I knew I could beat my man, so I took him off the dribble and just finished.”
It’s the kind of play Walker would not have been called on to make last season as the Phoenix had Jon Lawton (now at D-II St. Thomas Aquinas) running the point.
“Antone has the ability to do more this season,” Tozer said. “The most important thing was he was patient (on the third quarter basket). He waited, used a hesitation dribble, found an opening at the foul line and attacked the rim. He was really under control, and I think that’s where’s he’s really improved this year.”
The Fords were led by Kharon Randolph, who had 19 points. Jack Marshall added 18 points and pulled down six rebounds, but Haverford was outscored 24-18 in the final quarter. Walker added another layup in the final quarter as the Phoenix pulled away for the win with Hunter back on the court.
Hunter and Champion combined for 19 points in the final quarter, going 13-for-14 from the foul line. The two don’t miss often, which can make life as the Friends’ Central point guard a lot simpler.
“I’m really liking it. I like being a point guard, getting guys open shots and scoring when I can,” Walker said. “…It becomes really easy to do my job with (DeAndre and Chuckie). I can drive and kick and I know they’re going to knock it down.”