PHILADELPHIA >> Xzavier Malone had two chances to dribble out the clock and hand Chester a bitter defeat with its integrity still intact.
A little discretion would have been appropriate on most nights, but Malone wasn’t holding back.
The Plymouth Whitemarsh superstar spoiled Chester’s goal of winning a 24th District One Class AAAA championship with two in-your-face slam dunks in the final seconds of regulation.
It was PW’s time.
.@rated20x the emphasis. Final: @PWHSBasketball 68, Chester 57 https://t.co/l2wxK7x9KI
— Matthew De George (@sportsdoctormd) February 27, 2016
Malone was egged on somewhat by the student section for which he provided plenty of cheers Friday night at Temple University’s Liacouras Center.
“That was a statement right there,” Malone said with a smile. “We have the best student section in the world and they support us everywhere. I wanted to do it for them.”
Malone’s highlight-reel displays at the end were the exclamation point in No. 2 Plymouth Whitemarsh’s 68-57 victory over ninth-seeded Chester in the district final.
Malone, a Rider signee, came alive in the fourth quarter. His play ignited a rally — the Clippers held a 48-44 advantage after three — and lifted the Colonials to their first district championship since 1998. Malone netted 12 of his game-high 29 points in the final eight minutes, when championship players shine brightest.
And those two uncontested slams at the end? Perhaps it was just meant to be that way.
“He’s too good not to have a moment … or five,” PW coach Jim Donofrio said.
The Clippers had it coming to them. No team that commits 28 turnovers and several mental lapses deserves to win a district title.
“Too many mistakes,” Chester coach Larry Yarbray said.
Malone wasn’t the only guy to damage the Clippers — far from it. Spencer Oakley forced a steal at a critical point when the Clippers trailed, 60-56. Oakley had 11 points, was 7-for-8 at the foul line, grabbed nine rebounds and made five steals.
Matt Walker, seldom used otherwise, banked a 3-point field goal at the start of the fourth to trim Chester’s lead to one. Walker’s only shot attempt of the night jumpstarted a 9-1 run that put the Colonials firmly in the driver’s seat.
Ahmin and Ahmad Williams, formerly of Cardinal O’Hara, were a thorn in the Clippers’ side with their scrappy guard play.
“We felt our defensive intensity would be the main reason we win this game,” said Malone, who shot 9-for-24 from the floor, but hit on six of his final eight field-goal attempts.
“Chester is a big. Coach D refers to them as elephants and we’re the cheetahs. Well, elephants can’t run with cheetahs, and we’re the cheetahs.”
The mistakes were piling up for Chester. Even when they received a gift, as when Deshawn Hinson picked off a pass with a half-minute to go but missed a wide-open layup, the Clippers hardly could do anything right.
“We didn’t play our game,” said Chester senior guard Khaleeq Campbell, who added 11 points and four assists. “We went back to playing the way we did in the beginning of the season — as individuals. That’s not going to be enough for us to win, by playing as we did tonight. We played for ourselves instead of as a team, we played hero ball.”
Chester was outscored, 24-9. in the fourth quarter.
“We just weren’t here as a team tonight,” Campbell said.
It was a sickness that plagued the Clippers all game. Put simply, they couldn’t stay out of their own way in the first half. If they weren’t handing the ball over, they were getting called for too many fouls. The Clippers were whistled for 15 turnovers and 12 penalties in the first half, and that trend continued after halftime.
At no point did the Colonials (25-2) make the Clippers (20-7) look comfortable.
“They play defense the whole game and they play as a team, something we didn’t do today,” Campbell said. “They’re not better than us, but they played harder than us the whole game. We just fell.”
The Clippers reverted back to the bad habits that made them a 2-5 team in December. This wasn’t the squad that had reeled off 12 consecutive victories and had suffered just one loss since the start of the New Year.
“This isn’t the team I had the past four or five weeks,” Yarbray said. “Guys wanted to do their own thing and we didn’t stick to the game plan. Against a better team, you can’t have those deficiencies.”
In the second quarter, Plymouth Whitemarsh pounced on second chances and pulled ahead by as many as five points. Campbell kept the Clippers from reeling by draining a 3-pointer and, on the ensuing PW possession, picking off a pass and taking it the other way for a layup.
The diminutive Campbell sparked the Clippers and held down the fort until Collins jumped off the bench and scored eight of his team’s 26 points in the second quarter. Chester closed the rapid-fire period on a 16-9 run and led by two at intermission.
Collins, with his eight points in the second quarter and team-high 12 for the game, was the home-run hitter for Chester Friday night. The team’s leading scorer is carefully making a full comeback from a left-shoulder injury. He was effective in spots, but his presence for the entire 32 minutes was sorely missed.
Ultimately, Chester isn’t going to sweat a district title loss. March, the Clippers know, is their month.
“So, maybe this will put the lightbulb back on for us and guys will go all out,” Yarbray said.
And maybe they’ll be lucky enough to meet PW again.
“We know what we did wrong and we know why we lost,” Campbell said. “We’ll be ready (for the PIAA tournament). We know what it’s going to take.”