Randolph, Chester press down on league foe Academy Park

CHESTER >> As his Academy Park team continued to turn the ball over and as Chester happily converted the turnovers into points, Knights coach Frank Wolf kept looking at the clock, waiting for the worst to end.

The Clippers had turned a six-point lead after one quarter into a blowout in the teams’ District 1 Class 5A opener Wednesday night at the Clip Joint, and it seemed like that first half would never end for a young Knights team facing its first playoff adversity.

“I do think that it was a little eye-opening in the second quarter,” Wolf said. “Halftime couldn’t come quick enough. We couldn’t get out of that first half fast enough.”

Chester’s Brian Randolph III handles the ball for the Clippers in their 72-54 win over Academy Park in the first round of the District One Class 5A playoffs. Randolph led Chester with 25 points. (Matt Chandik/For Digital First Media)

The final, a 72-54 Chester victory, wasn’t indicative of the dominance that the Clippers put forth in the second quarter. Chester outscored the visitors 25-9 on the strength of its defense and transition game, which left AP bewildered and blitzed. Seven Clippers scored in that frame, paced by Michael Smith’s seven points, and the 40-17 halftime lead was all Chester needed to cement its win.

The No. 3 Clippers advance to Saturday’s quarterfinal against No. 6 Sun Valley, which upended No. 11 Marple Newtown, 62-56. The winner of that game will qualify for the PIAA tournament as one of District 1’s seven teams in the 5A bracket.

“We knew that if we pressed them and put the pressure on, that they were going to give the ball up,” Chester guard Brian Randolph III said. “I already knew what (could happen) because of how hard we go on defense in practice, so we expect that.”

“It was a little bit of their inexperience and us being aggressive on defense. That’s all it is,” Chester coach Keith Taylor said. “A lot of teams aren’t used to teams pressuring them.”

Of course, it didn’t hurt that the Clippers were incredibly unselfish going the other way. They consistently made the extra pass for an easy layup, rather than trying to barrel through multiple defenders for a tough take, and they made sure that their looks were open before letting the ball go. Chester shot 30-for-62 from the field, and while it wasn’t perfect, it was effective enough.

Randolph III was the beneficiary of much of that pass-happy offense, particularly with a ridiculous third quarter where six of his seven shots dropped, including a trio of 3-pointers. His 25 points led the onslaught, though Chester did also get 12 points apiece from Smith and Karell Watkins.

“I already know that I can shoot the ball very well, so I made two straight, and when you realize you’ve made two straight, you keep shooting,” Randolph III said. “I just kept making them. I like playing in that offense because everybody gets open shots, everybody gets a lot of shots up and no one is selfish. It’s better for everyone when we play as a team.”

Even though the Knights couldn’t keep pace with the more experienced Clippers, Tahriq Marrero’s play had to have AP salivating about the next few years. The freshman erupted for a game-high 27 points, including a streak of four consecutive 3-pointers.

“They weren’t dropping at first,” Marrero said. “I didn’t shoot that many threes (in the first half), but I hit my first three and my hand started feeling hot shooting. We had all underclassmen, other than two seniors. We have a lot coming back next year and a lot that we can build up to, so we have a lot to learn. This was a good learning experience.”

For Chester, there’s plenty of hope for a red-hot team that has only lost once since the calendar turned to 2018. The Clippers are confident that they can make a deep postseason run.

“Oh yeah, we’re getting our groove at the exact right moment,” Randolph affirmed.

Bad news for everyone else.

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