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Boys Basketball: Defense is Keys to the game as Chichester tops Penn Wood

Chichester's Maz Sayed, left, drives past Chester's Dallas Thompson in January. (PETE BANNAN-DAILY TIMES)

UPPER CHICHESTER — Akhir Keys called it Chichester’s “statement defense.” The Eagles, however, would make a statement or two on the defensive side Tuesday night against Penn Wood, and Keys was just one of a host of Eagles doing the talking.

Keys kept Delaware County’s leading scorer Nasir Washington to just two points in the second half, the Eagles turned Penn Wood over 21 times in its 3-2 half-court trap and Maz Sayed assembled an otherworldly stat line in a 62-51 win that keeps open Chichester’s path to a Del Val title.

Let’s get the mind-numbing numbers out of the way. Chichester (16-3, 5-1 Del Val) capped a season sweep over Penn Wood (12-5, 5-2). If Chi beats Academy Park Thursday and wins at Chester (10-9, 4-2) next week, the Eagles win the Del Val crown outright. A win at AP clinches at least a share of the title for the Eagles.

Penn Wood’s only hope is to win out (the Patriots play AP next week) and hope Chester tops Chichester for a second time to ensure a three-way split at 6-2.

As for Sayed, the senior guard went for 18 points, tied with Keys for a game high, plus nine rebounds. And eight steals. And seven assists. The unquestioned player of the game attempted just one shot in the fourth quarter.

It all started on defense for Chi. It turned Penn Wood over six times in the first half, trailing 30-29 at the break, then came out of halftime with the swarming trap. The Patriots turned the ball over five times in the first 3:49 of the third, eight times in the quarter and another nine in the fourth. The defense built a 43-34 edge midway through the third, until both offenses stalled and Penn Wood, its points still coming in dribs and drabs, pulled within 44-42 on a 3-pointer by Donald Hairston.

That’s when Sayed flipped the switch. He ended four consecutive possessions with steals. Twice, he fed Keys for fast-break lay-ups, the other was a drive to the rim for his only basket of the fourth.

From that two-point margin, an 8-0 blew the game open.

“It’s big because Maz was active, all over the court,” Keys said. “If me and Maz are going, nobody can stop us.”

“You’re always getting frustrated with that one,” Hairston said of the turnovers. “Our coach told us to come out, it’s going to be who throws the first punch. Those turnovers in the second half just messed up whole groove, so we tried to get it back and we fell short.”

As much as Sayed’s contributions were out front, Keys provided just as important a boost by shadowing Washington out of the game. The senior, who is averaging 25 points per game and hit Chester for 39 last week, showed why with a pair of first-quarter 3s. He entered the locker room with 12 points, the Division I prospect able to create shots off the bounce out to 28 feet.

But in the second half, his only points came from the line with 50 seconds to play and the game decided. For many possessions, Chichester was content to face-guard Washington out of the game and play 4-on-4. Keys limited him to one shot attempt in the third and a 4-for-18 shooting day. Washington’s team-high 14 points were well below the 20-point goal Keys set for himself.

“Just take him out of the game early,” Keys said. “If he doesn’t score, Penn Wood doesn’t win.”

“He did a really good job in the second half, and the whole game, to be honest,” Sayed said of Keys. “That was probably one of (Washington’s) lowest games of the season. I’m proud of him, and I’m very grateful, because it makes my job easier.”

The Patriots were unable to cultivate other sources of offense. Mekhi Shillingford was outstanding defensively with six blocks and 16 rebounds, yet scored only eight points. Chichester rotated its three bigs to slow him to a 3-for-11 shooting day. Sadiq Fountain added eight points and nine rebounds, but he shot just 1-for-10 from the field.

“Whenever your two leading scorers get face-guarded, you’ve got to step up,” said Hairston, who scored five points, all in the fourth. “… It’s pretty hard, with him being our leading scorer. Everybody’s got to step up.”

Chichester found its support scoring. It went up for good when Sayed drove the lane and found a blind weak-side pass to Vince Wildrick for a triple early in the third. He had 14 points plus nine rebounds. Keys added 18 points. Though Chichester shot just 5-for-21 from 3-point range, they went 15-for-16 from the line to make sure there was no late drama.

That means Chichester, which recently dropped a three-point overtime decision at home to Chester in a game where the gym was cleared of spectators in the final two minutes, is one win away from its piece of a league title. It would be the first for the program since 1993.

For all the goals of a team trying to return to states in Class 5A after their historic first trip there last year, Sayed knows where an addition to the Del Val banner ranks.

“That’s No. 1 for me,” he said. “We haven’t done that since 1993, and it wasn’t outright. If we could do that, it would be really good, and it would lead us into districts and states.”

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