PHILADELPHIA >> After one half, undermanned and undersized Academy Park was within two points of mighty Roman Catholic. But it came with a price.
Four players had three personal fouls. Two others had two. This thing was only going to last for so long. The Cahillites made sure of it.
Roman dominated the second half and ran away with a 73-58 victory over the Knights in the first round of the Class AAAA PIAA tournament Saturday at St. Joseph’s Prep. Academy Park, in the state tournament for the first time in 17 years, closes its terrific season at 20-8.
A 34-32 deficit at halftime surprised many in the packed gym at 17th and Girard. Pesky Academy Park shot the ball well, saw Roman Catholic (23-4) miss free throws and survived despite a plethora of foul issues. The second half was a different story.
“Foul trouble caught up with us in the third quarter,” Academy Park coach Allen Brydges said. “We had to play some different lineups and some really small lineups and they hurt us in the third quarter with their size. But these kids battled, they’re so tough. They play every possession hard — you saw in the first half how they can play with everybody.”
That “anybody” was the reigning Class AAAA state champions. The Cahillites had the five tallest guys on the court, including three players (Nazeer Bostick, Tony Carr and the 6-foot-7 Lamar Stevens) that are bound for Penn State. Two other starters (D’Andre Vilmar and the 6-foot-7 Paul Newman) are Division I prospects.
Carr put on a show, scoring 33 points while grabbing 11 rebounds. Stevens had 13 points, Bostick had 10. Despite the talent, despite the size differential, the Knights were not intimidated.
“We ain’t scared,” said Jawan Collins, who dropped a team-high 13 points. “We go into every game the same way, we don’t know opponents’ names, we don’t care about the names. We play our game, we play hard. And that’s how we play.”
That was good enough in the first half. It was not in the second half. The third quarter was especially rough. Roman Catholic outscored Academy Park, 21-8. It closed the frame on a 15-4 run. It led by as many as 20 in the fourth quarter.
With Teddy Wright and DeVoughnte Brown fouled out — Collins and Nick Simmons had four — there was only so much the Knights could do. They listed eight players on their gameday roster and were without Kyhree Temple, who didn’t play because of disciplinary issues.
“Foul trouble and their height just kinda wore us down,” Brydges said. “We got a lot of good looks, we just went kinda cold (in the) third quarter. We just couldn’t make a shot.”
The Knights were 3-for-19 from the field in that decisive frame. But even that could not put a damper on what was a memorable season in Sharon Hill.
“It was a nice journey,” Collins said. “But this group of guys right here, this was probably the best group of guys I played with.”
Collins was assisted by Simmons (12 points), DeAndray Covert (11 points) and Nakim Stokes (10 points). Those guys, and their teammates, wound up in a matchup zone longer than they wanted to because of foul issues. They struggled when Roman Catholic threw a zone defense at them. After succeeding off aggressive play all year, they couldn’t find a way to reign that in when needed.
So, as Roman Catholic prepares for Central Bucks West, the Knights look ahead to 2016-17, and look back at quite the run for the program and its seniors.
“Each year they took the next step … they’ve progressed just like we wanted over four years,” Brydges said. “I think they put Academy Park basketball back where it should be. We’re going to be good for the next few years.”