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Chester’s defense steps all over Walker, Reading

CHESTER >> When Chester’s boys basketball schedule dropped a few months back, you can bet Tuesday night’s game was the first one circled by orange pens around the city.

Blue-chipper Lonnie Walker, a highly-touted installment of perennial state-title contender Reading — and oh-by-the-way the team that ended Chester’s 2015-16 season — brought all the makings of a special night at the Fred Pickett Memorial Gymnasium.

Chester’s Michael Smith, 1, drives past Reading’s Lonnie Walker, left, and Hector Dixon Tuesday. Smith scored 14 points in a 62-51 win. (Digital First Media/Anne Neborak)

In just about every way, a young but bright Chester squad obliged the hype with a 62-51 win that overshadowed the bright star that is the Miami-bound Walker.

The defense-first performance was vintage Chester, nullifying Walker’s usual sizeable influence on the game. The high-flying wing had a pair of his obligatory, gravity-defying dunks. But his 13 points included a scant three in the second half and a ghostly impact.

“A lot of hype was going around this city for over a month, saying ‘Lonnie this, Lonnie that,’” said senior forward Jamar Sudan, one of the few veterans on the court both times Reading beat the Clippers last season. “But we didn’t pay attention. We stayed off social media, we stuck together as a team. And we came out with a win.”

They did so with trademark Chester tenacity. Coach Larry Yarbray threw a raft of defenses Walker’s way. Chester fronted him, denied him touches. They switched assignments; first lanky forward Brian Randolph, then guards like Jaimhy Evans as a restless Walker assumed more ball-handling duties. Then came senior leader Sudan for the final quarter-plus.

As in every other aspect of the game, Sudan rose to the occasion. In addition to his 16 points and 13 rebounds, he helped mute Walker late, both individually and in his orchestration of teammates.

“It’s a little different,” Sudan said of Walker. “We weren’t really focusing the whole game on him. We just told our young guys, however we play, play with heart. We’re not scared of anybody.”

“The key is just to make him work,” Yarbray said. “If he’s going to make some shots, make sure you’re contesting him without fouling. Sometimes he goes one against two, so we have to contest and rebound the ball.”

Yarbray then added with a pause: “And then make sure them other guys don’t hit shots.”

When Walker banished Chester from the PIAA Class 4A quarterfinals last March, he seamlessly directed Reading’s offense with 30 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Tuesday, the Clippers not only shut down his production but made sure he didn’t lift his teammates, as is his knack.

Chester (4-0) got its contributions up and down the roster. And the spark came from a player who watched games from the JV last year. Michael Smith scored 14 points, nine in a third quarter where Chester held a 21-10 edge to construct its final cushion. Seven of those nine points fed an 18-3 run to take control of the game.

And even more impressive were the style points Smith accrued along the way. Twice Smith found himself in the open court, ball in his hands, on a 2-on-1 with just Walker standing between him and the tin. Both times, Smith drove past Walker and all his recruiting-rating stars with the gumption that supports his nickname of “Man Man”.

Chester’s Jordan Camper, right, goes to the basket under pressure from Reading’s Lonnie Walker Tuesday. (Digital First Media/Anne Neborak)

“You’ve just got to take your time,” Smith said. “If they’re not getting back on defense, you push it. Push it down their throat. If they don’t get back on defense, that’s their fault. That’s your time to score.”

Ahrod Carter added 11 points for Chester, including 3-for-5 shooting from 3-point range. Jordan Camper provided nine points and 14 boards, contributing to the Clippers’ 45-21 domination in the rebounding category.

“The boards are ours,” Sudan said. “The paint is ours. We own the paint — blocked shots, rebounds, they’re ours.”

Chester stretched its edge as large as 18 points when Jaimhy Evans hit two free throws early in the fourth quarter. A handful of turnovers in the Red Knights’ press and three missed layups made things interesting late, though a Smith triple stemmed the tide of a Reading surge.

Tyrone Nesby (10 points) hit a pair of free throws with two minutes left to cut the deficit to 58-51. But he missed an open corner look the next time down the court that could’ve exacerbated the pressure on Chester before fouling out. Reading, whose other blemish on a 3-2 record came to Imhotep Charter, shot just 6-for-22 from beyond the arc.

Isaiah Cook added nine points for Reading, with Wesley Butler and Christian Abreu chipping in seven each. Walker led the team with six rebounds, three steals and two assists, but the Red Knights lacked their usual degree of offensive fluidity.

“We just play team defense,” Camper said. “Our main thing is if he goes off, you can’t let the other people go off. But I think we did pretty well on him. We made him do some tough things.”

That credo, Yarbray says, applies no matter who is on the other side.

“These guys right here really don’t know, and they don’t get caught up in the hype and the myth of things,” Yarbray said, referencing Walker. “They just want to play basketball. They want to play for Chester. They want to be out in the war. So they don’t worry about names. They just want to put their feet out there on the court and see what they can do.”

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