…and man, it was a pretty good, entertaining round with three Delco teams still chasing state titles with Chester and Upper Darby in the Class AAAA bracket and Archbishop Carroll in the AAA bracket. The Patriots got some clutch play down the stretch from sophomore center Ernest Aflakpui to fend off Berks Catholic 47-42 (my story) (Reading Eagle story) Friday night. Delco Christian, though, wasn’t as fortunate in a 63-42 loss to Vaux (Pete Schnatz story). Saturday, it was Quadir Rice putting back a James Fisher miss to send Upper Darby past Freedom, 47-45 (my story) (Allentown Morning Call story). Ridley didn’t get the bounces to go its way in a 63-53 loss to Parkland (my story) (Allentown Morning Call story), while Chester ripped Cumberland Valley, 74-43 (Matt Smith story).
He had just made a pair of free throws to ice Archbishop Carroll’s win over Berks Catholic because, well, rare are the times where All-Delco point guard Yosef Yacob misses free throws, especially big ones. But then he got a chance to basically pad his stats with the game already sealed with another pair of free throws. Yacob not only missed the first one, but he also missed the second one. As someone who’s seen him play five times this season, I can say that Yacob missing two straight free throws is basically a sign of the apocalypse. So what’s the deal?
“I couldn’t believe I missed two of them in a row,” Yacob said with a big smile. “I think I just needed more pressure.”
All kidding aside, it was a traditional Yacob performance, one where he has to be seen to be fully appreciated. When big men Derrick Jones and Aflakpui were stapled to the bench with four fouls, Patriots coach Paul Romanczuk called for a 1-3-1 zone that stymied the Saints, but offensively, there was also a much different look. Instead of looking to feed the post, there was more spacing from the smaller, quicker lineup and both Yacob and Nick Jones took the opportunity to shine, but how much additional pressure did that put on the guards?
“Oh, a lot,” Nick Jones said. “We just had to stay through it and play hard. We knew that we really needed our big men, but we just had to stay calm. We needed this win to move on.”
Aflakpui played the entire fourth quarter with his four fouls and was nothing short of tremendous, especially on the defensive end. Derrick Jones played for about half of the fourth quarter and neither fouled out.
“We hadn’t played zone the whole game and we went to a 1-3-1 zone,” Romanczuk said. “They made some shots, but it worked a little bit. It slowed the game down and that’s something that we wanted to do at the end of the game. It worked for us. You’ve just got to roll with the punches. …The whole time I wanted to go back to man, but we had to stick with it.”
Aflakpui’s development has been so consistent this year, yet his upside is still off the charts. He’s not a great offensive threat yet, but his footwork is so much more advanced than it was to start the year. He’s not going to go for 20 and 10 any time soon and there are times where he still looks uncomfortable in offensive sets, but give it time. He’s already a very advanced defensive player – “he’s in the right spot defensively 99 times out of 100,” Romanczuk said – and the job he did on Berks big man Nana Foulland, a future Division I player, was very good.
Upper Darby finds a way again
It’s not always pretty with the Royals and they know how to make things interesting like they did against Freedom, but Rice came through big-time for them on the Fisher miss. Usually, playing for the last shot with high school kids can get a little dicey because nerves tend to flare up and it’s tough to execute. But the Royals pulled it off because Rice was in the right spot at the right time even against a big Freedom frontcourt.
Upper Darby doesn’t have any stars. Kuity Slanger‘s the closest thing to one, but he’s not the type who can absolutely dominate a game. Instead, he does his job very well and has handled point duties well this year considering he’s a natural 2-guard. While Slanger didn’t dominate against the Patriots, he did come through in the clutch for the Royals. He had seven of his 12 points in the fourth quarter, including an almost impossible off-balance shot in the lane with several hands in his face. The best players want the ball in their hands in the big moment and that’s what Slanger did. His two free throws preceded an and-one from Freedom’s Nigel Long that ultimately set up Rice’s basket.
“Don’t miss ’em,” Slanger said when asked of his mindset. “Just don’t miss ’em.”
Written off for so long, the Royals came through.
‘That’s definitely been our motivation all year. (Some) said we wouldn’t win five games, so…,” Slanger said.
Ridley bows out
The Green Raiders just could never get the lead back. They got off to a 2-0 start on a Brett Foster drive and after that, they never led again. There’s no shame in that, considering District 11 champion Parkland is pretty good and had some players that definitely caused mismatches. The absence of center Zain Shaw didn’t help, either, because Ridley could have used him to battle inside on the boards. Ultimately, though, Parkland was just better and caught fire from the field, shooting 50 percent. Jon McGill put the team on his back in the third quarter, though, and nearly brought the Green Raiders even with the Trojans.
“I just saw openings and I took advantage of them,” said McGill, who had nine of his 15 points in the third quarter. “I’m confident in what I can do and I know the shots I can make.”
While the dream fell short, McGill acknowledged that even making it this far was an achievement in itself.
“Some teams were done a month ago in Delaware County and we were still practicing and playing,” McGill added.
– MATT CHANDIK