Heading into the fourth quarter of Sunday’s Public League championship basketball game at the Liacouras Center, the Imhotep Charter High School Panthers held an 11-point lead over Roberts Vaux High and its standout guard Rysheed Jordan.
When play started, things got really interesting.
Calling to mind a January game when Vaux used a 21-2 fourth-quarter run to hand Imhotep its worst loss ever in its East Germantown gym, Jordan all but singlehandedly willed the North Philly school onto a 10-1 run.
With 49 seconds remaining, Imhotep’s star guard Brandon Jordan fouled out of the game while trying to stop his foe from getting to the basket. Then, within 30 seconds, Jordan sank a pair of free throws to give Vaux a 66-65 lead.
From there, it was Imhotep senior guard Abraham Massaley’s time to shine.
The championship-deciding play
Coach Andre Noble drew up a pick-and-roll play that would have sent the five-foot-11 Massaley into the crowded lane in front of the hoop.
After the timeout, and knowing someone had to step up considering Austin’s absence, Massaley said he saw an opening to drive to the hoop to reclaim the lead, which he did with a dozen seconds remaining.
“I knew they would double team me, so I found a man I could beat,” said Massaley, who did not start the game. “It’s amazing. I don’t have any other words for it.”
What he was saying was amazing was the fact that when Jordan’s last-gasp jumper fell short at the buzzer – leaving him with a remarkable 45 points in the game – Massaley’s seventh point of the game was decisive in leading Imhotep to victory.
As Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration” blared from the PA system, Imhotep players danced on the court, hoisting and posing with the Public League championship trophy.
There was no postgame handshake line as Vaux players walked to the locker room as the other team’s celebration commenced.
Austin said that he had enough faith in his teammates that he knew they would win the game without him.
“I trusted my teammates. They got the ball back and won it,” he said, holding the game MVP trophy. “They came through.”
For his part, Noble said that the January loss did not creep into his mind during Vaux’s frantic fourth-quarter comeback.
“That was a month ago. Sure, it added a little extra to the game, and we wanted to be ready after that worst loss ever in our gym, but I didn’t even think about it during the game,” he said, with a net that had been cut from the basket draped around his neck. “I’m just proud of our kids.”
As for Austin, the coach added that “if he had 50 points and we lost, he’d be miserable. That’s the kind of kid he is.”
The Public League championship game was not the last of the season for Imhotep, which will face Neumann-Goretti at Saint Joseph’s University, 7 p.m. Friday, in the PIAA District 12 Class AAA title game.
Earlier version of game story
The Liacouras Center game clock showed 1.1 seconds remaining in the Philadelphia Public League boys’ basketball championship game on Sunday afternoon.
The team from Roberts Vaux High School in North Philadelphia had already recovered from an 11-point deficit at the end of the third quarter.
Trailing the Imhotep Panthers 67-66, they were inbounding the ball to star guard Rysheed Jordan, who already scored 45 points. The other team’s standout guard, Brandon Austin, had already fouled out.
The ball got into Jordan’s hands. He aimed and got a shot off before the buzzer, but when the ball fell short, it gave Imhotep a thrilling victory and its fourth Public League championship in the past five years.
With Austin on the bench, Imhotep’s Abraham Massaley drove to the hoop to score the winning basket with fewer than 20 seconds remaining, the Liacouras Center crowd on its feet.
“It’s amazing. I don’t have other words for it,” Massaley told NewsWorks after the game about how it feels to hit the championship-winning shot.
Imhotep Coach Andre Noble said there was no creeping sense of comeback deja vu, despite the fact that Vaux beat them 73-51 in January, fueled by a decisive fourth-quarter run, much like on Sunday. It was the worst home defeat in team history, Noble said.
“I’m just proud of our kids,” Noble said moments before draping the netting that his team had cut down in victory around his neck.
Now, Imhotep moves on to the state playoffs with Friday night’s PIAA District 12 Class AAA game at Saint Joseph’s University versus Neumann-Goretti, which plays in the Catholic League championship game tonight at the Palestra.