On Tuesday, the boys Public League basketball postseason began with a preliminary round of playoff contests. There were 10 total games, with the winners advancing to Thursday’s first round and the losers being eliminated. A couple of area teams played yesterday. Here’s how they fared:
CLASS AAAA (seeds in parentheses)
(9) Southern 54, (8) Northeast 51
In an uneven 2013-14 campaign that featured plenty of peaks and valleys, the young Vikings came up just short against visiting Southern. After graduating his entire starting five from 2012-13, head coach Ira Stern guided a very inexperienced group back to the postseason, but key mistakes — namely, turnovers, which Stern estimated his team had around 25 — ultimately derailed Northeast against Division B’s Southern (9-10, 7-6 Division B).
Junior leading scorer Elmange Watson notched 22 points (his 19th consecutive double-digit scoring game) and senior guard Rashee Walls added 15, but it wasn’t enough to thwart Southern’s balanced effort (Kahsiaan Kay led the Rams with 15, while Khaid Jones tallied 13).
“It was our sixth game where we either had a lead or were tied with three minutes left in the game,” a disappointed Stern said by phone on Wednesday afternoon. “We’re very young, so finishing out games was a problem for us all season. Everything was new to these guys. It was a great run, and the coaches and I feel like we got everything we could out of the kids. They were a great group.”
Northeast finished 10-9 overall, going 6-6 in Division C play. Senior captain and the Vikings’ best post player, Will Smart (also a football captain), will graduate, as will Walls and forward Dalvin Johnson. But unlike the end of last year, Stern can enter this offseason knowing he will bring back a ton of talent, including the team’s top two scorers in junior guards Watson and Deshan Brown. Watson was one of the top scorers in the division — as well as the entire city — and should be a terror as a senior if he limits turnovers and a sometimes questionable shot selection.
Knowing he will bring back a talented backcourt, Stern said the Vikings must improve down low if they want to be a major contender in the league. Looking around the rest of his division, Northeast’s second-year head coach stated that height wins (he cited Central’s 6-foot-5 center Chris Bing, who helped guide his team to a 20-2 record this season, including 12-0 in Division C), and he’d like to have more of it.
“We need to catch a break if we want to stay competitive,” Stern said. “We have to get somebody tall that wants to come play here. I think we have shooters, but we need to get one or two guys to play down low. One guy really can change a program. If I had someone like Chris Bing, I might not lose a game, either. We have a great group of kids, and if everybody comes back and we can taller, we’re going to be a very good team.”
And despite his disappointment and utter hatred of losing, the three-point loss to Southern wasn’t enough to diminish the old-school head coach’s enthusiasm for next season. Heck, he’s already looking forward to it.
“I’m already 100 percent excited,” he said.
(7) Lincoln 77, (10) Kensington 54
Lincoln sure picked the perfect time to get white-hot.
Head coach Al Brown’s Railsplitters bulldozed Kensington from start-to-finish, winning their fifth straight and advancing to face Central on Thursday (3:15 p.m., at Central). The Lancers went undefeated in Division C during the regular season but did have a few scares, including a narrow 63-60 Jan. 2 victory that Lincoln led by eight after three quarters.
The Railsplitters (12-7, 7-5) are led by sophomore point guard Blair Bowes, who scored 19 against Kensington. Bowes, who is just as adept passing the basketball as he is scoring it, is averaging 23.8 points in his last six games.
And he’s got plenty of help. Senior shooting guard Raymond Fred is a sniper on the perimeter and nearly automatic at the foul line, while underrated senior forward Akquil Harrington burned Kensington (11-5, 10-2 Division D) for a team-high 20 to go with 10 boards. Junior Ishmael Marshall can too burn opposing defenses if they spend too much time trying to stop Lincoln’s top three.
When the Railsplitters are on, they’re deadly, no matter who they’re playing. A win over Central would be a major statement for Brown’s program, and after giving one away during the regular season, Brown and company believe it can be done.
(5) Dobbins 67, (12) New Foundations 47
In its first Public League season, New Foundations Charter School (NFCS) (8001 Torresdale Ave.) enjoyed plenty of success, going 9-3 in Division E and 13-7 overall. However, it was not against Division B/Public League mainstay Dobbins (10-10, 7-6), who used a 41-23 first half to cruise to victory in NFCS’s first playoff basketball game in the league.
Devante Laws scored 13 of his 17 points in that deciding first half, and teammate Andre Cannedy also added 17. For NFCS, leading scorer Keith Blassingale led the way again with 16, while senior Nate Comp added 10.
Despite the loss, NFCS has much to look forward to next season, as head coach Ryan Kilkenny will bring back his top four scorers: Blassingale, Travon Williams (junior), Matt Campbell (junior) and Nazir Wilson (freshman) are all eligible to return in 2014-15.