PHILADELPHIA >> Plymouth Whitemarsh scratched and clawed its way to a two-point lead with two minutes remaining in its PIAA Class 6A quarterfinal game Sunday afternoon. Then an ugly, old nemesis reappeared.
“I just think that our primary weakness (throughout the season) was handling pressure. It took the entire season to get OK at it,” PW head coach Jim Donofrio said. “Usually if you have a weakness and you get to…this point in time…you have to pray that weakness stays hidden. That’s all that was.”
The Colonials failed to score in the final 2:10 of the game, turning the ball over once up two and once with the game tied, in a 71-60 loss to Reading.
“That was just 2:10 of reverting back to where we were in January,” Donofrio said. “And you hope that virus is healed. What can you say … it’s called the human element. There’s a human element to the game. They’re not robots.”
In all PW committed 23 turnovers in the game, which proved too much to overcome.
With the Colonials leading by five in the second quarter, Reading turned up the defense. Facing a suffocating press, PW was forced into four consecutive turnovers to start a run that turned the game on its head.
In all an 18-13 lead turned into a 37-32 halftime deficit behind the 24-14 run. The deficit was as high as 12 in the first half for the Colonials.
“You’re trying to win three games in five days in the state tournament,” Donofrio said. “My biggest concern was emotional lift. I don’t care what you do to sound like a great motivational speaker. Friday night’s game was a 17-round boxing match.”
The Colonials defeated Pocono Mountain West 66-63 Friday night in what people are calling the best Pennsylvania high school basketball game played this year.
“When you play a game like Friday night, which as many people said was a fascinating game to watch, on Saturday you just want to go shopping and tell the kids ‘I don’t wanna see ya. Enjoy the glow of it,’” Donofrio said. “Instead you gotta see me for another three hours. It could have been that in the last two minutes … everything went into that game.”
PW made its way back by simply outworking Reading in the third quarter, resulting in a multitude of offensive rebounds. Ish Horn had 5 himself in the third, en route to his nine points and seven rebounds.
“At halftime you just have to say we were getting embarrassed on the boards in the second quarter. When their point guard takes three guys down to the net and gets three offensive rebounds you either gotta decide to raise your game or quit,” Donofrio said. “These guys respond well to those kinds of statements.”
High effort and intensity out of the halftime locker room got the Colonials back to a 50-50 tie after three quarters.
“That third quarter was some clamp-down defense,” Donofrio said. “We maintained it and it was set up exactly the way it was supposed to be set up (at the end of the game).”
Kevin Tilghman also led the second-half charge by the Colonials, scoring all 14 of his points after halftime.
“If Kev gets going he kind of is a combination of (Jason Paul and Kareem Breeden). It’s like variations of a car, what model do you want,” Donofrio said. “Kevin kind of brings an ability to cover, do some showing on (defense), he’s also a three-point threat and can run the point. He’s very versatile. When those two guys got sidetracked with injury it was his turn.”
Ahmad Williams was a go-to option throughout for Plymouth Whitemarsh as well, scoring a team-high 15 points.
“Kind of the story of the season. We’ve left, probably a lot of great performances on the bench because there’s that much parody,” Donofrio said. “You almost want to apologize to three or four guys every night because the game is just not long enough for this particular team.”
Reading star Lonnie Walker was held in check most of the game, shooting just 4-14 in the first three quarters.
“I was just so impressed with our team,” Donofrio said “And what we do incredibly well, I think as well as any team in the state this year, is we defend what I call elastically. We figure teams out and kind of just amoeba into what they are.”
The Miami commit scored 10 of his 20 points in the decisive fourth quarter.
Isiah Cook was an ever-present part of the game. The point guard picked both a technical foul and an intentional foul at separate points of the game, but also scored with his team trailing 61-59 to tie the game and again with the game tied at 61 to put his team up for good.
Matching Walker offensively for Reading was Tyrone Nesby, who scored 11 points in the first quarter and 20 for the game. Jose Batista was the catalyst for the Red Knight’s second-quarter run, as he scored all 12 of his points in that frame.
The first quarter was played much more at Plymouth Whitemarsh’s pace, with a balanced scoring attack that saw the Colonials leading 16-13 after eight minutes.
Looking back, a 26-6 season and a trip to the PIAA Class 6A quarterfinals will be seen as a success for Plymouth Whitemarsh. Despite being visibly proud in his team, that doesn’t make this loss any easier for Donofrio.
“I’m spoiled and I’m older and I’m ornery now. In a month you’ll look back and say it was a good run,” the head coach said. “I knew that I made the commitment to the team and it’s a dangerous commitment. Many, many teams in a state tournament, they win a game and say ‘aren’t we fortunate?’ and they stay humble.
“I’m not doing that this year. This is one where you see the love of your life from across the room and you say ‘I’m gonna go all the way in on this and if I get my heart broken I get it broke.’ So right now I’m annoyed in all honesty because I committed the whole way to it and I gotta get past it. We were in a position to win this tournament.”
Top Photo: Reading’s Wesley Butler and Plymouth Whitemarsh’s Cheo Houston battle for a loose ball during their PIAA Class 6A quarterfinal on Sunday, March 19, 2017. (Rick Cawley/For Digital First Media)