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Turnovers, not Collins, to blame for Chester’s loss

PHILADELPHIA >> For the better part of a month, Marquis Collins has watched, waited and hoped.
His left arm in a sling, the senior Chester guard has ridden a conflicted ride alongside his fellow Clippers. He landed awkwardly Jan. 28 against Glen Mills, exiting as the leading scorer on a 12-6 Chester team just starting to put the pieces together, building for what they hoped to be a lengthy postseason run.
He returned eight games — eight Chester wins — later as another weapon of uncertain potency for a team that had evolved so much, without him and because of him.
“There was days watching practice, watching games, where I almost shed a tear, watching my team going out in the wars and not being able to help them,” Collins said Friday night.
Then the conversation took a turn that even the most cocksure of players couldn’t avoid: Chester committed 28 turnovers in watching Plymouth Whitemarsh run away with a 68-57 win and the District One Class AAAA title. Chester Friday resembled, in coach Larry Yarbray’s estimation, the 2-5 team that started the season and has been elevated to a teaching aid in so many huddles since.
Collins was there in December. He wasn’t for most of the 12-game winning streak, an overlooked fact in considering Chester’s postseason brilliance. Then he reappeared Friday.
So was it him, he wondered?
“I feel like as a team, we were kind of off,” Collins said. “I only practiced twice before I came back today, so our chemistry wasn’t like when I was out when they had great momentum.
“I don’t want to blame it on me, but they kind of look for me to score and take over, and that messed up the chemistry.”
The answer to Collins’ self-aware question is a resounding, no. The 6-foot-7 Delaware State commit scored 12 points, including eight in the second quarter as the Clippers (21-7) threatened to pull away. He made his only shot attempt in the third quarter and sat to start the fourth as Yarbray opted for a defense-first lineup that failed to slow high-flying Xzavier Malone (29 points) and exacerbated the turnover predicament.
So Collins was not directly to blame Friday — not relative to Chester’s rampant foul trouble, lack of perseverance on the boards against a smaller, scrappier PW and incorrigible desire to cough up the ball.
But in the sunny turn that often comes this time of year in Chester, Collins is the answer to the question that will define Chester’s postseason: Can they attain the best of both worlds, merging the veteran savvy that emerged in Collins’ absence and the benefits of his talented presence?
Yarbray said that the plan was to ease Collins back into the fray. He didn’t start the forward, who still leads Chester at 12.6 points per game. He sought to exploit matchups without PW’s Mike Lotito, the 6-foot-5 forward who fouled out as predominantly a non-factor, on the floor.
But that addition had a cost, subtracting a member from the core that has coalesced on this finals run.
“We were trying to get him going at the four spot, but we became an offensive team,” Yarbray said. “We tried to score instead of focusing on defense.”
Collins admitted he was about 80-85 percent on the injury to his shooting shoulder. While his offensive game looked rehabilitated, that’s rarely even half the battle in Chester’s valuation.
The thinly-veiled subtext was simple. Friday wasn’t an elimination game. Next week’s PIAA Tournament opener will be. In a city where only state titles count as hangable banners, the preference of when to work out any potential kinks was clear.
That decision comes with the presupposition that the transition would cause friction. Collins’ productivity would replace some successful compensation method — from the smaller, quicker defenders who’ve helped renew Chester’s dogged defensive reputation; from senior shooter Deshawn Hinson; from the dribble-drive game of Stanley Davis.
Simply adding him to the mix wouldn’t reset to a month ago. No one would assume that reintroducing Collins would mean that Davis (averaging 11.0 points per game in his absence) and Hinson (10.0 ppg) would keep churning out those totals while Collins’ produced at his former rate. After having four players average in double-figures this postseason, adding a fifth is either unbeatable or superfluous, and the line between them is deceptively thin.
After weeks of working to fill his void, the temptation to just toss it to Collins and say, he’ll take care of it, required moderation.
“I think the guys were excited for Marquis to be back,” Yarbray said. “They tried to throw it in to him, let him try to do it one-on-one, and you can’t beat good teams like that.”
Collins and Yarbray are confident that with time, they’ll figure it out. But that is the commodity in scarcest supply. Collins’ Chester career could have just 32 minutes left, even with five intervening practices to forge new connections.
There’s no doubting that Chester is better for having Collins available. But at this level, it’s not just brute force. There’s a balance to strike — offense and defense, drive and shoot, inside and out.
For all the ways in which Collins presents a nightmare for opponents weighing those factors, he likewise will demand Yarbray and his staff to decipher how to position all 14 pieces of the puzzle to extract five more wins from 2016.
“I just want to try to lead my group the best I can,” Collins said. “Coach was just telling me that there were lots of teams that lost in the districts (final) or didn’t even get to the districts (final) that won the state title, and that’s our goal.”
The goal has never changed. But the path just acquired an intriguing, potentially game-changing, wrinkle.
To contact Matthew De George, email Follow him on Twitter

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