Xzavier Malone (5) scored 29 points as Plymouth-Whitemarsh captured the 2016 District 1 Class AAAA championship. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Xzavier Malone couldn’t have scripted a more perfect ending to the District 1 AAAA tournament.
As the Plymouth-Whitemarsh senior glided in for the last of his 29 points, a two-handed slam just before the final buzzer sounded, he looked up at his brother in the P-W student section, and all the emotions hit him at once.
“When I looked at him, he just gave me that look like ‘game over, you’ve got it,’’’ Malone said. “It was a very emotional feeling, as soon as I dunked it...I almost wanted to cry."
Just a year removed from their District 1 AAAA championship loss to Abington, Plymouth-Whitemarsh cut down the nets at Temple’s Liacouras Center after a valiant fourth-quarter comeback resulted in a 68-57 win over Chester.
Friday night's victory marked P-W's first district championship since 1998.
The Colonials’ seniors led the way, behind Malone and an 11-point, 11-rebound effort from Oakley Spencer.
Malone scored 13 points in the fourth quarter alone, brushing off an early-game shooting slump to lead his team to victory. After making just three of his first 13 shots, he found ways to get free against a Chester defense determined to stop him.
“A couple of times I couldn’t get it because when I would try to get it, they were face-guarding me really hard, then they would double me," Malone said. "It was really hard to get the ball at a couple of times, but I just tried to keep fighting through the defenders, the double-teams and all of that, try to get the ball and things just went our way tonight and we came out with the ‘W.'"
It's the second time he's been part of a team that won a championship at the Liacouras Center, as he was on the Martin Luther King squad that won the Public League championship there in 2014, but then he was only a small part of the Cougars' rotation.
Trailing by four headed into the fourth quarter, P-W opened the final period on an 8-1 run to go up 52-49 with 5:47 left. Chester stayed within a bucket of the colonials for the next three minutes, until P-W finished it off with a 9-1 run.
All 10 P-W players who saw minutes scored at least one bucket, part of an impressive all-around effort from the Colonials. Starting big man Mike Lotito had four points and six rebounds though he was limited by foul trouble. Ahmad and Ahmin Williams, P-W's sophomore twins, combined for seven points and their usual tough defense off the bench. Kevin Ashenfelter hit three of his four foul shots in the final two minutes.
Even deep reserves Matt Walker and Naheem McLeod came up big when Lotito was on the bench. Walker, a 6-4 junior, hit a 3-pointer to open the fourth and cut the deficit to one, while the 6-9 freshman McLeod's layup with 3:03 remaining re-established a four-point advantage.
"We had a lot of players who can play at this level, even our second unit, they do a great job at playing, they’re just really good basketball players--and sometimes they even try to give us a run for our money during practice," Malone said. "I'm just really proud of my team."
The final dunk was one of two by Malone in the last 10 seconds; while the last one put the finishing touches on the victory, it was the first slam that sealed the win.
Chester turned it over 28 times against a Plymouth-Whitemarsh squad that was determined to show it would not be out-toughed in its second consecutive district championship game.
“Very frustrating, this isn’t the team that I had the past four or five weeks,” Chester’s Larry Yarbray said. “We went back to that old team in December, that 2-5 team, guys wanted to do their own thing. We didn’t execute, we didn’t stick to the game plan.”
Senior wing Stanley Davis, a Morgan State commit, led Chester with 18 points. Fellow seniors Khaleeq Campbell and Marquis Collins had 11 points apiece.
The first half, although very high-scoring, was most remarkably defined by a total of 25 turnovers, 16 by Chester and nine by Plymouth-Whitemarsh. Despite 14 of those coming in the first quarter, the Clippers only trailed by five entering the second frame.
P-W opened up a 22-14 lead about two-and-a-half minutes into the second quarter, but it was right around that point that Chester started to find its stride. The Clippers began making their shots and forcing the bulk of P-W’s giveaways as part of a 10-1 run that finished with a Collins 3-point play.
Collins' entrance in the second quarter was the first action for the Delaware State-bound wing forward since he suffered a shoulder injury in January.
Chester took a 33-31 lead into the locker rooms at half and led by six on two occasions in the third quarter before P-W started its comeback.
By grabbing the top seed out of the district in the PIAA bracket, Plymouth Whitemarsh (24-2) draws District 3’s eighth seed, Lebanon (17-10). Chester, which is in the western half of the bracket, plays District 3’s sixth seed Hempfield (16-9) in next Saturday’s opening round.