Donta Scott (above) and Imhotep beat Middletown by 19, but head coach Andre Noble wasn't thrilled. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
READING, Pa. -- After winning toughing out a Public League championship in overtime a year ago, Imhotep Charter basically breezed through the PIAA 4A bracket. The Panthers won four of the five games by at least 28 points -- their margin in the championship -- and by 19 in the fifth, which was a quarterfinal win over another Public League foe in Audenried.
This year, so far, has been almost the mirror image.
Imhotep Charter had no issues in the Public League championship, rolling Martin Luther King by 29 points. But the Panthers haven’t found things quite so easy in the state bracket this time around.
The first round went easily enough -- a 36-point win over Kennard-Dale -- but Imhotep has not looked its dominant self in the two that followed, including a 79-60 win over Middletown in the quarterfinals on Wednesday night.
Imhotep head coach Andre Noble didn’t mince words afterwards.
“We’re not defending,” the 17th-year head coach said. “That’s just not Imhotep basketball, it’s like we don’t practice. Disappointed, really disappointed with how we played today. I don’t even know what else to say. I don’t even know what that was.
“I want to make sure it was clear, this is not their fault. How they played is from what I do and from what we [coaches] do, it’s not their fault,” he added. “If we coach the way we’re supposed to coach, led by me, we won’t look like that. They’re a talented team and talented young men, we didn’t do a good job today, I didn’t do a good job of preparing them for this game.”
All looked in order for the No. 15 team in the MaxPreps national prep rankings, as Imhotep (29-2) jumped out to an 8-0 advantage and was up 22-7 after one quarter of play.
But Middletown didn’t fold.
The Blue Raiders (19-8) clawed back to within 33-23 at halftime, and scored the first four points out of the break to cut the deficit down to six; it was as little as five later in the quarter.
Instead of shying away from Imhotep’s uptempo attack, Middletown tried to play into it, pressuring ‘Tep into a dozen turnovers and getting good looks in transition.
“We looked at it and said do we want to slow them down, or do we want to go ahead and play how we normally play, and we do play uptempo,” Middletown skipper Chris Sattele said. “Maybe if we made some shots early we may have tried to slow it down a little bit, but after we got to that point, we just said we’re going to play hard, we’re going to play smart, we’re going to play together and we’re going to get after them. And our guys did that and really defended their tails off.”
By scoring 60 points against Imhotep, Middletown managed something not even powerhouses like DeMatha (Md.) or Gill St. Bernard (N.J.) pulled off against Imhotep, which is chasing its seventh state title since joining the PIAA In 2004-15.
It’s true that Imhotep is without two members of its rotation due to injury, as both senior Amear Johnson (back) and junior Jamil Riggins Jr. (ankle) cheered from the end of the bench at Reading’s Geigle Complex. But there’s still plenty of future Division I talent left on the court, including Donta Scott (21 points/9 rebounds), Dahmir Bishop (13 points/7 rebounds/4 assists), Bernard Lightsey (13 points/3 rebounds) and Karam Cummings (11 points/6 rebounds).
“We’re short a couple guys that are important to us, and we feel it, it’s kind of thrown off our rotation a little bit,” Noble said. “But I’m sure other teams would trade with me, right, and take the talent that we have and trade talents with me. So it’s no reason for us to not play well or to not be prepared.
“They’ve played against some of the best teams in the country, we’re supposed to be one of the best teams in the country,” he added. “But it’s a bad basketball team out there today.”
The end-to-end play resulted in a heavy volume of foul calls. Imhotep shot 31-of-38 (81.5 percent) from the free throw stripe; Middletown was 18-of-29 (62.0 percent).
Ryan Hughes led the way for Middletown with 20 points, nine of which came from the foul stripe. Fellow senior Tre Leach had 15, including two of the team’s eight 3-pointers, plus four rebounds and four assists. Kyle Truesdale added 10 points and four rebounds in his final high school game.
If Imhotep plays the way it did against Scranton Prep -- when it survived an ugly, slow-it-down game for a 44-32 win -- and Middletown, it might not do so well against Bethlehem Catholic.
The Golden Hawks (28-3) feature Northwestern commit Ryan Young, a 6-10 post, his 6-9 junior brother Kyle Young and junior guard Justin Paz, as well as a talented supporting cast; they showed their stuff with a 62-37 win over Berks Catholic on Friday night.
“I think we’re playing bad,” Noble said, “and if we don’t figure out how to play better by Monday, then our season will be over.”