WILLIAMSPORT – When you’ve played in back-to-back PIAA championship games, nothing fazes you – not even missing your best player.
Philadelphia’s Imhotep Charter Panthers, pursuing a PIAA Class 4A three-peat, dominated the second half of Monday night’s state semifinal, 65-46, over Hickory.
“These kids have already done this. For the most part, the guys we played, when they walk into (Giant Center) in Hershey it won’t be the first time, it won’t be for the second time. They’ve been there multiple times. I don’t think they’re gonna be feeling pressure; I just think they’re gonna play,” summarized veteran Imhotep head coach Andre Noble.
Even with NCAA Division I recruit Donta Scott sidelined by a one-game suspension, the Panthers produced a handful of double-digit scorers.
“Sometimes when we’re missin’ a guy it actually opens up the floor for them. I’m definitely not sayin’ we’re better without (number) twenty-four (Scott) – ‘cause he was the state player of the year last year – but we have guys that can score,” Noble noted.
At the “Home of the Millionaires,” Williamsport High, Elijah Taylor tallied an 18-point, 10-rebound double-double to pace the Panthers (25-6), while Dahmir Bishop bucketed a dozen, and Chereef Knox and Jamil Riggins evenly divided an additional 20 points.
“We have five seniors, they’ve all been here since they were freshmen, and they sacrifice to play here,” Noble emphasized. “They don’t get 15 or 20 shots a night.
“(Taylor) has been on a roll in this state playoff run,” Noble continued. “We’ve been feeding him the ball, and he’s been responding and being dominant So that’s like the third or fourth game in-a-row that he’s been special, and he was really good again (Mon)day.”
Hickory held a 4-0 lead literally seconds into the game. Awarded a 2-shot free-throw situation on a technical assessed against Imhotep at the game’s outset, Donald Whitehead converted the front end. Then on the ensuing inbounds play Isaiah Jarzab’s pass set up Peyton Mele’s triple.
But Imhotep, with Bishop, Knox and Taylor tallying 5, 4, and 4 points, respectively, led 17-6 after 8 minutes.
Hickory hurdled the Panthers’ early spree. Jarzab’s trey with 3:40 remaining to intermission had the Hornets within 19-16, and Mele mustered another trey with 1:59 left, drawing Hickory within 23-19. But another Imhotep run provided the Panthers with a 28-19 bulge at the break.
“We had ‘em a little bit nervous, but then the last minute (of the half) I think they scored six unanswered on us, bumped that lead to nine,” began Hickory Head Coach Chris Mele. “They’re so long. Then you make a run and they’ll hit a three or get a big post-up or dunk on you.
“I thought we did a good job with their (defensive) pressure (12 turnovers). But they’re so long. When you catch the ball on the wing (in the half-court offense), they’re right there in your face. It’s hard to get a shot off on these guys,” Mele admitted.
To mentor Mele’s point, Hickory hit on only 17 of 59 floor shots. Looks that had not been contested in previous games instead were scarce against the Panthers’ pressure.
“Imhotep did a nice job of takin’ charges,” Mele noted. “We had at least three (possessions) where we scored the bucket and got called for a charge – those are big momentum swings. That’s two points in, take it off the board, then they come down and they score two – that’s four points, and it could’ve been a 20-point swing right there.”
With Taylor tallying 14 second-half points – 7 during the 3rd period, complemented by Bishop’s 5 – Imhotep extended its edge to 43-27 entering the final frame.
Knox notched a game-high 5 assists, and Bishop, Riggins and Sami Wylie went for 3 apiece.
Jarzab scored 11 of his team-high 15 points during the 2nd half, but he and Whitehead (12) were the lone double-digit scorers for Hickory. Peyton Mele mustered 8 markers, tossing in 2 treys.
In spite of the setback it was a historical season for Hickory (27-2), including regular-season region and District 10 championships while establishing a single-season program record for wins.
“It’s just been amazing!” Coach Mele began. “We told our guys, our senior leaders – Matt Trontel and Mike Filardi – have left their mark. They’re gonna come in the gym (The Hive in Hermitage) next year and their senior year’s gonna be on that banner. But more importantly, great guys – their teammates love them.
“They’re leaders by example, which is fantastic. They’re both gonna do so well in life ‘cause they know the right way to do it,” Mele said in praise of Trontel and Filardi, both of whom dished out 2 dimes, continuing,
“We have, what I think, is a first-team all-state point guard (Whitehead), who showed (Monday) night why he is so good – he was a tough match-up for (Imhotep) ... we’ve got great players in Peyton and Isaiah, ‘bangers’ in Jaylen, Rocco (Iacino) and Bailey (Phillips), and you saw our jayvees – I just couldn’t be more proud.
“Jeanette (assistant coach Whitehead) said, ‘The season’s gonna end quickly, it ends Thursday,’ and it (was) Monday already. So we’re right there,’ Mele summarized. “It’s the western final, technically, and it was the west versus the east, so it was our state championship game, and I couldn’t be more proud of our guys.
“The future looks really, really bright for Hickory High basketball.”
PIAA CLASS 4A SEMIFINALS
HICKORY 6 13 8 19 46
IMHOTEP 17 11 14 23 65
HICKORY –– Whitehead 4-3-4-12, Mele 3-0-0-8, Iacino 0-0-0-0, Jarzab 6-0-0-15, Jarvie 0-0-0-0, Filardi 2-0-0-5, Phillips 0-0-0-0, Trontel 0-0-0-0, Cannone 1-0-0-2, Pryts 1-2-2-4, Knott 0-0-0-0, Harris 0-0-0-0. 3-pt. goals: Jarzab 3, Mele 2, Whitehead 1, Filardi 1. Totals: 17-5-6-46.
IMHOTEP CHARTER –– Bishop 4-2-2-12, Knox 4-0-0-10, Wesley 2-0-0-5, Taylor 8-2-4-18, Riggins 5-0-0-10, Wylie 2-0-0-4, Roundtree 0-0-0-0, Moultrie 0-1-2-1, Crawley 0-0-0-0, Harley 0-0-0-0, Childress 1-0-0-3, Raphael 1-0-0-2. 3-pt. goals: Bishop 2, Knox 2, Wesley 1, Childress 1. Totals: 27-5-8-65.