CHESTER >> Tuesday night’s District 1 Class 5A boys basketball championship game started tragically for visiting West Chester Rustin.
It ended jubilantly for the hometown team from Chester.
After two devastating first-quarter injuries for Rustin, the Clippers used a furious third-quarter charge to pull away from the game Golden Knights, 62-46, for the 24th District 1 title in school history.
Chester (12-1) will now host District 2 champion Crestwood on Friday night in the PIAA Class 5A quarterfinals.
And because of the strange playoff format created by COVID-19, there is no chance for Rustin to redeem itself. The Knights’ season is over.
The big story of the game was a pair of first-quarter ankle injuries to Rustin’s two best players: Jacob Barksdale and Griffin Barrouk. Neither player returned, and Barrouk — a Hofstra University commit — was carried off the floor and immediately put into a brace before being rushed to nearby Crozer-Chester Medical Center.
“We don’t know the extent of the injury but it didn’t look good,” said Rustin Athletic Director Devon Landgraff.
Needless to say, the injuries left Rustin very thin the rest of the night against a powerful Chester squad.
“It’s terrible to see two seniors get hurt like that,” said Rustin coach Keith Cochran. “I do not complain but we lost our two best players, one an all-state player. But my guys showed a lot of fight. They really battled and showed they want to be back.”
Even though Rustin was without a big part of its team, the Golden Knights only trailed, 31-30, at halftime. And that’s a fact that rankled Clippers coach Keith Taylor.
“We played down to their level a little bit in the first half,” Taylor said. “We were shooting too many 3-pointers and were only four of 11 on them in the first half. Just playing selfish basketball.”
Chester responded to what must have been a spirited halftime talk from Taylor, outscoring Rustin, 21-6, in the third quarter as the Clippers started to attack the glass. Karell Watkins led the way for Chester with a game-high 24 points along with 12 rebounds.
Chester started the third quarter on an 8-0 run to seize control of the game. Two Watkins baskets in the paint, and two putbacks by Shaquan Horsey, made it a 39-30 Clipper lead.
“We got back to our bread and butter and that is going inside and attacking the glass,” Taylor said. “We got back to doing what we do best.”
Rustin, clearly rattled by the absence of its two best players, was outmanned and shot just four for 21 in the second half. The Knights turned the ball over 11 times, thanks largely to Chester’s stifling defensive pressure.
With a commanding 52-36 lead after three quarters, the Clippers put the ball in the hands of point guard Jameel Burton, who did a good job playing keep-away, and Chester put the result to bed with a relatively easy fourth quarter, putting itself just two wins away from a state final.
“It feels great to win a district championship,” Burton said. “The vibe of the game was weird after the injury to Barrouk because you don’t want to ever see that, and we played poorly in the first half after that. But we came out in the second half and played Chester basketball.”
Chester 56, West Chester Rustin 46
W.C. RUSTIN (46): Barrouk 3 0-0 7, Barksdale 1 0-0 2, Shoup 1 0-0 2, Miller 0 0-0 0, Shivers 1 1-3 4, Reinheimer 2 3-5 8, Freney 2 0-1 4, Chobany 3 2-2 8, Sproul 2 0-0 4, Seelaus 0 0-0 0, Sleschsinger 3 0-2 7, Mercy 0 0-0 0, Guinta 0 0-0 0. Totals 17 6-13 46.
CHESTER (62): F.Burton 5 1-2 14, J.Burton 4 1-4 9, Freeman 0 2-2 2, Madison 0 0-0 0, Womack 3 0-0 7, Watkins 8 8-10 24, Horsey 2 0-0 4, Jerkins 0 2-2 2. Totals 22 14-20 62.
WC Rustin 15 15 6 10 – 46
Chester 18 13 21 10 – 62
3-point goals: Barrouk, Reinheimer, Freney, Sleschsinger, F.Burton 3, Womack.