Academy Park wins a Covert operation

SHARON HILL — Throughout Wednesday night’s game, Academy Park senior captain Day’Juan Henson kept pestering coach Allen Brydges to put in junior Deandray Covert.

Against Chester’s rangy lineup, went Brydges logic, the diminutive Covert just wasn’t the right fit. He reasoned that the backcourt pairing of Covert and Jawan Collins was too short to see contend with Chester’s lengthy 1-2-2 press and fire the over-the-top, pressure-relieving passes his team needed.

But when Henson fouled out with 1:28 left, there was no choice but to turn to Covert. And the Knights were certainly grateful for that.

The junior, who entered the game for the first time in the final minute, played the hero, hanging in the air to bank home a buzzer-beating, pump-faked 3-pointer as Academy Park scored a historic win over Chester, 51-48.

“I just threw it trying to hit the backboard, maybe it would go in,’ Covert said. “And it did.’

It’s the first time Academy Park (15-4, 4-3 Del Val) has beaten Chester since 1994 and just the second win since the school’s inception for the 1982-83 season. It’s the first time the Knights have ever beaten Chester at home.

The win came at the expense of a third straight loss for Chester (11-7, 5-2), the first such losing streak since the 2009-10 season.

In a back-and-forth backcourt battle, the guard who played the fewest minutes — and is probably the shortest of stature — made the biggest impact.

It wasn’t Jawan Collins, who finished with 17 points but just three made field goals a game after going off for 40 points against Phoenixville last Friday. It wasn’t Travis Smith, who missed four fourth-quarter free throws to finish with 14 points, three shy of 1,000 for his career. It wasn’t Chester’s Ahrod Carter, who hit a pull-up jumper in the lane with 1:03 left to nudge the Clippers ahead 46-45, then buried a foot-on-the-line deuce that was originally scored a 3 to tie things up at 48 with 14 ticks left.

Instead, it was Covert, whose lone contributions of the night were almost traveling at midcourt in the teeth of Chester’s press on the final possession, then corralling a missed shot in the lane by Collins and then … that shot.

“They told me to clear out and get my point guard (Collins) the ball,’ Covert said. “He missed. I’m thinking this is my time to shine. I got the rebound, shot the ball and made it.’

“That says what kind of kid he is to come in and make the shot,’ Brydges said. “It wasn’t the way we drew it up. We wanted to get Jawan the ball, but when they took it away, he had enough confidence to get the ball and knock it down.’

The circus shot was a fitting ending to a chaotic second half in which two teams that had struggled for offensive continuity before the break exchanged haymakers possession after possession. AP had just 14 points in the first half, just four more than Chester big Maurice Henry, who led the tall Clippers to a dominant presence in the post that should’ve yielded more than six-point advantage.

Academy Park recovered from that sluggish first half with a 13-4 run out of the break, seizing a 27-24 lead. But Chester hit right back, closing the third quarter on a 12-5 spurt to take a four-point lead into the fourth quarter.

That was one of many chances that Academy Park had to roll over and accept a 20th straight season of dominance at the hands of Chester. But the Knights didn’t.

“We all had confidence in each other, and we just kept pushing each other,’ Collins said. “We thought we could do it. We knew we could do it.’

Instead, Smith, who struggled with his shot, resolved to get to the line more in the final frame, and two free throws with 5:19 left edged AP ahead for at 38-37. He drained two more from the line with 2:08 remaining to extend the lead to five at 44-39.

Chester, though, had a fightback left in them. Marquis Collins (nine points, five rebounds, four blocks) and Henry (who finished with 14 points, 10 rebounds) knocked down pairs of free throws around a Jamar Sudan steal to cut it to one. And the Clippers took the lead thanks to Carter, the gutsy sophomore guard who finished with eight points stepping to the elbow and calmly burying a jumper with just over a minute left.

The first audition for the role of hero was answered by Rich Caldwell (13 points, 10 rebounds), who appeared to do enough to win the game with 27 seconds left. After another broken play, Caldwell buried a second-chance 3-pointer from the top of the key, giving AP a 48-46 lead.

That lasted 13 seconds before Carter’s shot, a icewater-in-the-veins jumper over a defender with his foot on the 3-point line that was originally put on the board as a 3-pointer, but later amended so that it only tied the game at 48.

“The pressure is everything in basketball,’ Carter said. “And when it’s involving pressure, you just have to absorb it and adapt to it. … I was thinking we were going to get the win, but I guess it didn’t work out that way.’

That only set the stage for AP’s heroics, and for another display of the maturity and toughness that has the Knights on the precipice of turning a corner in the program’s multi-year upward trajectory — toward a home game in the first round of the District One Class AAAA Tournament, and maybe more.

“The kids are so tough this year,’ Brydges said. “I think we’ve finally gotten — it helps with Jawan and Travis — that they believe they’re going to win, even against teams like this. … They just believe they’re going to win, and they’re not afraid of anyone anymore.’

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