George Washington’s junior basketball class had never played in a Public League playoff game prior to Thursday. The postseason newcomers sure had a funny way of showing it.
Junior Charles Brown connected on four three-pointers, scoring 14 of his 24 points in a torrid first quarter that saw the Eagles jump out to a 24-4 lead over host Olney in Thursday’s first round of the playoffs. Brown had plenty of help from fellow juniors Jerome Blume (23 points, 13 rebounds) and Asante Ali (two points, six steals, six rebounds, 10 assists) as G.W. withstood a 35-point second half from Olney’s Shakeem Stevens (40 points total) to hold on for a 80-70 victory at the former Cardinal Dougherty High School.
The sixth-seeded Eagles (15-6) advanced to play No. 2 Central (21-2) in Tuesday’s Class AAAA semifinals (3:15 p.m. at Central) after the Lancers cruised to an easy 63-47 victory over Lincoln on Thursday. The other AAAA semi will see No. 4 Frankford visit top-seeded King at 5:15 p.m. — the Pioneers got there following a 66-55 win over Bartram, also on Thursday.
For Washington and second-year head coach John Creighton, the win was ever-so sweet, especially after last year’s one-and-done postseason appearance.
“The junior class, I can’t say enough about their overall presence,” Creighton said by phone on Wednesday morning after those juniors were responsible for 54 of Washington’s 80 points against Olney. “None of them had any playoff experience coming in, whether they’re coming from here or they transferred from somewhere else. They’ve really stepped it up.”
Brown is one of the guys who came from somewhere else, transferring to Washington via Imhotep Charter. An injury suffered on a dunk attempt cost him some games in the middle of Washington’s season, but the 6-foot-4 Brown been rock solid when he’s been in the lineup, averaging nearly 15 points per game in Washington’s Division B contests. He finished the Olney game 8-for-13 overall from the field, including 6-for-8 on three-point tries.
“Charles is the type of kid that if he gets going early, he’s going to be unstoppable,” Creighton said. “He’s just a great kid, and he never once missed a practice, even when he was hurt. When he’s confident, he’s an inside/outside terror.”
Now, Creighton will have his hands full figuring out how to stop Central, namely senior 6-foot-5 center Chris Bing, who averaged more than 19 points per game on the season. The Lancers’ only losses of the season came Dec. 7 against Penn Wood and Jan. 11 at Penn Charter.
“It all starts with the center, obviously,” Creighton said of Bing. “Any Central team in any sport is going to be disciplined and smart, and they’ll jump on every one of your miscues. We’re going to watch the film on them, find ways to execute on offense and see if we can locate and exploit any weaknesses they may have.”
Washington’s depth, as it has been all season, should be a major advantage against Central. The Eagles run 10-deep. In addition to the aforementioned juniors, junior Jheron Johnson contributed five points against Olney, while seniors Joseph Randall (11 points), Khyree Hunt-Hawkins (playing hurt en route to eight points) and James Cottrell (seven points) all contributed. Brown and Cottrell each stand 6-foot-4, Blume is 6-foot-5 and senior reserve Rasheed Black, at 6-foot-6, should be able to offset some of Central’s size.
Because of their depth and versatility, the Eagles can beat you inside and out.
“We constantly look at match-ups and ways where we can use our strengths against the opposing defense,” Creighton said. “Last year, we were a top-heavy team where we relied on one or two guys; now, we run at least 10-deep in our rotation, and I think a lot of them have been motivated all season to prove people wrong and showcase their skills. It’s a real tight-knit group.”
Because of that fact, this year’s team has been an absolute pleasure to coach, regardless of whether or not Washington beats Central.
“These kids are willing to learn and they are willing to work,” Creighton said. “There are no headaches on this team. I never feel like I have to push and push and push with them, because they are self-motivated and self-driven.
“Just the time and effort they’ve put in, they feel like they’re being vindicated. They worked hard throughout the summer and fall. When they had some success, the trust level grew between players and coaches, as well as the players on the court with one another. It’s made it that much more special to see the time and effort behind the scenes has come to fruition on the court.”