MAXATAWNY >> Kutztown University’s Keystone Arena was packed, the crowd overwhelmingly in favor of Reading.
Yet after a quarter of action in Saturday’s afternoon PIAA boys basketball Class 6A first-round contest, the scoreboard was in favor of the North Penn boys basketball team.
The Knights knocked down four three-pointers in the opening period, led by as much as nine points and ended the first eight minutes holding an 18-12 advantage.
But in the next eight minutes, North Penn had no solutions to counter Reading’s talent and its intense defensive pressure.
“We kind of felt good about that little run,” North Penn’s Ricky Johns said. “It just didn’t last all game.”
As NP’s shots began to miss, District 3’s Red Knights started to get things going and had their fans roaring, outscoring North Penn 24-5 in the quarter – ending on a 21-3 run to going into halftime up 13.
North Penn never stopped fighting, but could not put a dent into the Red Knights’ advantage and had its first state appearance since 2000 end with a 58-45 loss.
“We had a couple of one-pass possession or no-pass possessions, long shot, long rebound and they were able to transition. Their press hurt us,” said North Penn coach John Conrad of the decisive second quarter.” Some of the stuff we got early probably hurt us because we started settling. We hit a couple bombs early, kind of like fool’s good and then we weren’t grinding it out offensively and getting good possession. Came back and bit us in the second quarter.”
Tyrone Nesby hit five 3-pointers – four in the first half – in scoring a game-high 17 points for Reading (26-3), which advances to face Perkiomen Valley in the second round Wednesday. Perk Valley bounced Roman Catholic 57-55 at St. Joseph’s Prep.
Lonnie Walker, a the Red Knights’ Miami-bound McDonald’s All-American had 15 points while Isiah Cook went 7-for-7 from the foul line in adding 11 points.
Walker made his biggest impact in the second quarter, ripping off a personal 7-0 run – starting with a steal and emphatic one-handed slam – that gave Reading the lead for good. Walker credited the surge into halftime to his team’s defense, which when not creating turnovers had North forcing shots.
“When get on to that full-court press, it’s kind of vigorous for the other team, they’re a little terrified,” he said. “It’s not just that, but when we continue to press, usually teams press for one, two minutes, but we continue to press and continue to be right at it, it’s a beautiful thing. The other team starts to wear and tear and go down.”
While Reading plays in its own spacious gym, but Walker was impressed by the turnout at Kutztown. Keystone Arena’s capacity is 4,300 and pretty much every seat in the place was filled.
“The gym’s actually surprised me. Growing, when I was young we used to play AFB here so, you don’t really sees these bleachers coming down like this, you only see one bleacher up,” he said. “So, the fact that it was a packed house and it was filled to the max, it was beautiful.”
AJ Mitchell paced North Penn with 10 points. Johns and Derek Heiserman each had eight points.
“We knew we had to play perfect,” Conrad said. “Good basketball team. I’m proud of these kids, what a great season we had and just want to focus on that at this point.”
The Knights end the season 21-7. North Penn won the outright Suburban One League Continental Conference title and placed fifth in the District 1-6A tournament, its best district finish since taking fifth in the 1996 4A playoffs.
“It was a great run. Make it to states (for first time) in 17 years, we made history and that’s all we wanted to do,” Johns said. “We played a great game and then we got to look back on it and know we made history. That’s the best part about it.”
— Mike Cabrey (@mpcabrey) March 12, 2017
A Walker three put Reading up 8-5 but Johns scored the next four – his dunk off a Red Knights’ turnover giving North Penn a 9-8 advantage.
RJ Dixon’s free throw at 2:54 tied the game 9-9 before Chris Coleman, Reece Udinski and Mitchell connected on back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers for an 18-9 lead.
Nesby, however, got Reading going again – hitting a three at the end of the first quarter then another triple to start the second quarter, cutting the margin to 18-15.
“It’s expected of him to hit five threes. Everything he does is expected,” said Walker of Nesby. “He’s a dynamic player, he can shoot, he can dribble, he can dunk. So, usually people give people pat on the backs but he just knows what he needs to do and we know what he can do so we have the vision that he’s in his zone and I’m in my zone, it’s a scary sight.”
After basket from Heiserman gave North Penn a 20-15 edge, Reading took over. Tymir Comfort made it 20-17 then Walker had a steal and slam, two free throws and a 3-pointer for a 24-20 Red Knights lead.
Johns’ free throw at 4:23 got North Penn within three but Nesby drained a triple and Cook collected four straight, stretching Reading’s advantage to 31-21.
“It got really hectic in the second quarter” Johns said. “They were playing fast, and we tried to keep up with them and it didn’t really go our way.”
Mitchell went coast-to-coast for two and was fouled – he missed the And-1 – to make it 31-23 with 3:30 left. But Reading collected the half’s final five points – Cook getting fouled on a trey and making all three at the line at 2:57 for a 36-23 lead.
“It was obviously the turning point. We could never overcome it,” said Conrad of the second quarter. “They’re too good to overcome something like that.”
Udinski banked in a runner to decrease North Penn’s deficit to 36-25, but that was as close as the Knights got in the second half. Nesby responded with a three with a Cook bucket pushing the Reading lead to 16.
Walker scored on an underhand scoop and was fouled, converting the three-point play at 46.6 seconds to put Reading up 50-31. Two from Heiserman had Reading’s lead at 50-33 after three quarters.
The Red Knights was up by 19 twice in the fourth – the last time at 54-35 – and with the sizeable advantage, Reading was content to work the clock.
North Penn put together run a 10-2 to get within 11, but Johns’ free throw to make it 56-45 with 1:31 was the Knights’ final point.
Reading 58, North Penn 45
North Penn 18 5 10 12 — 45
Reading 12 24 14 8 — 58
North Penn: A.J. Mitchell 4 0-0 10; Derek Heiserman 4 0-0 8; Ricky Johns 3 2-4 8; Reece Udinski 2 2-2 7; David Giuliani 2 0-2 5; Chris Coleman 1 0-0 3; Lance Ford 1 0-0 2; Noah Kwortnik 1 0-0 2. Totals 18 4-8 45.
Reading: Tyrone Nesby 6 0-0 17; Lonnie Walker 5 3-4 15; Isiah Cook 2 7-7 11; Wesley Butler 2 2-2 6; Tymir Comfort 2 0-0 4; RJ Dixon 1 1-2 3; Xavier Starks 1 0-0 2. Totals 19 13-15 58.
Three-pointers: NP-Mitchell 2, Coleman, Giuliani, Johns; R-Nesby 5, Walker 2.