PHILADELPHIA >> Highly-touted Reading junior Lonnie Walker knew the game was in the bag the moment the ball left his fingertips and swished through the net as the third-quarter horn sounded at Temple University’s Liacouras Center Saturday afternoon.
Walker’s wicked step-back 3-pointer over the reach of Chester’s Marquis Collins was his way of telling the Clippers, “Thanks for playing.”
Sure, Chester didn’t do itself any favors in a season-ending, 73-64 defeat to the District Three champions, but Walker made a huge difference.
Turnovers, poor foul shooting and a bevy of missed opportunities in their comfort zone — the paint — led to the Clippers’ demise before a crowd of mostly Reading fans. Saturday marked the first time Chester has lost in the PIAA quarterfinal round since 1999. The Clippers are 28-3 all-time in the Elite Eight of the state tourney.
“They played smart basketball, played to their strengths,” Chester coach Larry Yarbray said. “A lot of times they got Lonnie in transition and when he wasn’t able to get uncontested looks he passed to open shooters. They took their time (and) they were real patient, plus they made foul shots. That was the difference of the game.”
Walker could feel the electricity when he sank the trey at the end of the third quarter. He left his shooting wrist hang in the air for a few moments after he extended Reading’s advantage to 12 points.
It was the highlight of a stupendous performance by Walker, who is being recruited by UCLA and Villanova, among other Division I programs.
He’ll have his pick.
“It transfers into the fourth quarter,” Walker said of the buzzer-beater. “It gets everyone pumped up. Making that 3-pointer made us feel as though we had the upper hand as of (that moment). For some reason we had the home crowd, so that helped. We just played our game and that’s the main key.
Once I made that 3 … I don’t even know how to explain it. It just felt like we were on a different stage, a different level.”
Walker torched the Clippers (22-8) for 30 points on 8 of 13 shooting, including 4 of 7 from beyond the arc. He also grabbed seven rebounds and dished out six assists.
“I always say the known (guy) is going to do what they got to do. We know they are going to take 25 shots and going to get (at least) 20 points. You’ve got to in a game like this,” Yarbray said. “The key is limiting the other guys. But when you look in the box score they probably had two or three other guys with 15 points. If we limited them to 55 points or less, we have a better shot at winning. So, our attention to detail kind of broke down.
“I don’t know if guys got caught up in the moment a little bit, but they played moreso off emotions and when you do that, good teams beat you.”
Khary Mauras, Reading’s other dynamic combo guard, registered a double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds. Damon Sterns added 11 points.
“They’re a tough team. They went out on the floor and balled, they went all out,” Chester guard Stanley Davis said. In his swan song with the Clippers, Davis scored 11 points.
“They just played hard, and they wanted it more in the beginning than us,” he added. “We should have played that hard at the beginning of the game. We focused on stopping the whole team. We knew about the guards because they’re good. The whole team was our main focus.”
Chester would never lead again after relinquishing an early 10-6 advantage, spurred by a trio of dunks from big man Maurice Henry, who eventually fouled out in the second half. That’s the only damage Henry made on the scoreboard.
A 1-for-7 performance at the foul line in the second quarter by the Clippers enabled the Red Knights (28-3) to go in front to stay. It was in the second period when the Clippers’ good luck around the rim eluded them. In the second half, the cold trend continued, as they missed 26 shots over the final 16 minutes of regulation.
“That’s basketball,” Yarbray said. “Some shots you normally make on a consistent basis don’t go, and then guys start pressing too much. It’s like I told them, we’ve been down 20 points in a game at halftime, against Martin Luther King, and came back and won the game. And when we did that, we played together, played the right way. We didn’t play as individuals. That’s the way we were playing in part of that third quarter, going into the fourth quarter, we were playing as individuals.
“Then … we finally wanted to play together, but there wasn’t enough time left on the clock.”
Chester point guard Khlaeeq Campbell dropped in 14 of his team-high 22 points in the fourth quarter. Ultimately, Campbell’s admirable effort was a case of too little, too late for the Clippers, who trailed by as many as 20 points.
Chester shot 42.8 percent (24-for-56) from the floor, and bricked 14 free-throw attempts. Reading hit on close to 50 percent (20-for-42) of its field-goal tries. The Red Knights went 2-0 against Chester this season, including a 69-57 win Dec. 23.
Reading, which has won 23 consecutive games, plays District Eight champion Allderdice in the state semifinal round Tuesday night.
“We had goals this year,” Davis said. “We just couldn’t fulfill our goals.”