PIAA Class 5A Boys Basketball: Archbishop Ryan’s Darren Williams repels Jackson Hicke, Radnor

BENSALEM — It made sense that the game would find Darren Williams at its most crucial juncture.

All day, the Archbishop Ryan wing had been outstanding on the offensive end. His length and aggressiveness on defense was a big reason why Radnor struggled to establish rhythm in the PIAA Class 5A quarterfinal Friday night.

But with Ryan leading by three and the clock ticking under 15 seconds, the end-to-end chess match that had engrossed for 31-plus minutes distilled into one bout of isolation one-on-one.

Jackson Hicke driving the ball. Williams backpedaling in defense. A fair few of those in attendance at Bensalem High School holding their breaths.

Radnor’s Jackson Gaffney shoots a 3-pointer against Archbishop Ryan during their PIAA Class 5A quarterfinal on Friday, March 17, 2023 at Bensalem High School. (Mike Cabrey/MediaNews Group)

Williams did the job defensively, contesting Hicke’s drive so that he couldn’t get a shot off, the ball caroming off his body and out of bounds for a turnover. It was the final rebuttal from Ryan in an outstanding state quarterfinal, won by the District 12 runner-up, 69-65.

“I know he’s a good player,” Williams said of Hicke. “I know he’s one of the best players on the team, and I know that he was going to get to the bucket and keep his team in it. So I knew I had to really stay focused, sit, play defense, slide my feet and try my best not to foul and get a shot.

The turnover concluded a drama-filled final minute, which Ryan entered leading by seven. Radnor got within three twice – first on a third-chance and-1 by Jackson Gaffney, though he missed the free throw, then with two free throws from Cooper Mueller. Thomas Sorber missed the front-end of a 1-and-1 to give Radnor hope, but Hicke’s drive was repelled, and with it Radnor’s hopes of finishing a dream season with a state title.

That it was Williams doing the defending fit all else he’d done on the day. He led all scorers with 28 points. He shot 8-for-16 from the field, a perfect 7-for-7 from the line and 5-for-9 from 3-point range.  That included two fourth-quarter triples – one a corner 3 off a cross-court feed from Michael Paris that put Ryan up 11 with four minutes to play.

While the attention of the first half centered on the two stars in foul trouble – Sorber sat the final four minutes until halftime with three fouls; Hicke picked up two in the game’s first two minutes and didn’t score in the first half – Williams capitalized.

“It’s definitely opportunity, knowing you’ve got to step up,” Williams said. “Alright, you’re the main leader now, you’ve got to communicate with your teammates and facilitate and score and play defense, do everything that’s needed.”

But the difference for Ryan (17-10) was its scoring balance. It wasn’t just Williams or Sorber, who tallied 14 points (on 5-for-6 shooting) plus 11 rebounds and five blocks, plus many more shots altered. Ryan Everett added 10 points on 4-for-5 shooting. Paris had a stellar all-around game, with 11 points, five rebounds and five assists. As a team, Ryan shot 23-for-37 (62.1 percent), including 7-for-7 in the fourth quarter, though a few bobbles at the line by Sorber made it interesting.

“Knowing it’s not only two scorers, everybody can shoot the ball, everyone can get the ball in the hoop,” Williams said. “Knowing that, we’ve got to be confident, take shots and that opens up things for everyone else.”

Radnor (29-1), a team predicated on balance, came up short on that front. They got the boost needed off the bench thanks to Jackson Gaffney. With Hicke sitting, Gaffney hit four first-half 3-pointers to about single-handedly keep them in it. The St. Joseph’s Prep transfer finished with 21 points and shot 5-for-6 from 3-point range.

“When I come in, I try to give a spark on offense,” Gaffney said. “In practice, I get that shot a hundred times, so if I get that shot, I’m going to take it knowing it’s going to go in.”

It bought Radnor time. They trailed by just two at half, 30-28, which seemed fortuitous given that Hicke provided no offense. He made up for lost time in the third, draining 3-pointers on three consecutive trips down the court.

“We know he’s going to start scoring,” Gaffney said. “He’s going to get his, and if he’s not scoring, he’s distributing and helping the team out in any ways.”

Electrifying as that run was, there were two problems. First, it didn’t create the space that Radnor is used to, its third quarter runs this season stunning opponents into submission. When Hicke airballed a heat check on the next trip, Ryan was still within two at 37-35.

Second, the run accounted for more than half of the Princeton signee’s 14 points. With Sorber, an eminent disruptor, taking away much of Hicke’s array of drives and feints around the hoop, he shot just 4-for-17 from the field.

The supporting cast didn’t quite make up the shortfall. Danny Rosenblum had six of his nine points in the fourth quarter. Charlie Thornton scored nine in the first half but was blanked for the last 16 minutes. Mueller had eight.

On so many fronts, Radnor did what it needed to do. It shot 11-for-22 from 3-point range. It turned Ryan over 16 times to just eight committed. It just wasn’t enough.

“They played good in the second half,” Gaffney said. “We played our butts off, but it didn’t go our way.”

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