Nationally-ranked Imhotep charter dashes New Castle’s hopes for state championship
Friday, March 25, 2022 | 10:29 p.m.
HERSHEY — New Castle wanted to hold for the last shot of the first half, but Imhotep Charter grabbed a rebound, hit a buzzer-beating 3 and ran for the locker room to 11.
“That shot described how the first half went for them,” said New Castle senior Mike Wells. “They couldn’t miss.”
Facing a nationally ranked opponent with multiple Division I rookies, New Castle fell behind early and spent three and a half quarters chasing after Imhotep Charter in a 54-39 loss on Friday night in the PIAA Finals. Class 5A at the Giant Center.
Imhotep (28-4) scored the game’s first 14 points, but New Castle (27-3) didn’t fold. The Red Hurricanes cut the deficit to six points in the second quarter and were under nine with about three minutes left in the fourth.
But against an opponent considered the most talented in the state, New Castle couldn’t close the gap. Imhotep’s Justin Edwards, a 6-foot-7 junior who counts Kentucky among his college offerings, scored a game-high 20 points.
The Panthers shot 57% from the field in the first half, including a 5-on-6 start for Edwards.
“They came out very hot,” said New Castle coach Ralph Blundo. “They are fantastic. Edwards is fantastic. … They are great players. They make contested shots.
New Castle (27-3) tried to stay close with 3 points. The team attempted 30 and made nine, including five by Wells and three by Isaiah Boice. Wells scored 19 points and went 5 for 11 of 3, but had just three points after halftime.
Boice finished with 13 points.
Imhotep’s length and speed knocked New Castle out of the basket. The Red Hurricanes attempted just 16 shots from inside the arc and only managed six. The team also did not attempt any free throws.
“I knew we had to shoot exceptionally because it was going to be so difficult to score around the rim,” Blundo said.
New Castle was seeking its second state championship after winning in 2014.
The state title was the eighth for Imhotep, who has won them all since 2009. Their victory on Friday continued the trend this weekend of non-bordering schools winning state titles. Of the first eight trophies awarded by the PIAA, only one went to a traditional public school.
Blundo said there was an “inequity” in the state playoffs that needed to be corrected.
“NBA teams don’t play NCAA Division I basketball teams,” he said. “Division I teams that have purses don’t play Division III teams for championships because the circumstances are different. The possibility of obtaining players is different. It’s just. So you have to recognize it and deal with it, because it hurts children.
But Blundo clarified he was not criticizing Imhotep Charter or coach Andre Noble.
“Imhotep’s kids…they’re not doing anything wrong,” Blundo said. “They’re just playing by a set of rules that allow it.”
New Castle trailed 14-0 before Wells scored a 3-pointer with about three minutes left in the first quarter. Wells made two more shots and Boice added another to cut Imhotep’s lead to 18-10 after one quarter.
The Red Hurricanes came closer late in the second quarter when Wells and Boice made straight 3s to cut Imhotep’s lead to 27-21. But the Panthers ended the first half with a dunk from Ma’Kye Taylor and a 3-pointer from Rahmir Barno, another Division I junior.
“Buzzer shots under any circumstance are momentum generators for the other team,” Blundo said. “That one was huge.”
Imhotep led 32-21 at halftime, then scored nine of the first 11 points in the third quarter. The biggest lead was 19 points late in the third, before New Castle tried to rally again.
Wells, Jonathan Anderson and Boice hit straight 3s for a 9-0 run, and the lead was 44-34 with six minutes left in the fourth. The Red Hurricanes then cut the lead to nine with about three minutes remaining on a Boice field goal.
“I wanted people to know that we have heart,” Wells said. “They won by 15, but we played until Coach Blundo knocked us out. We played until the buzzer sounded. I wanted everyone to know that we gave it our all.
Keywords: New Castle