PHILADELPHIA – When your basketball team has a blue-chip major college recruit, one of the best players in the state, the question always comes during the state tournament:
“Are the players who surround him good enough for his team to win the state championship?”
Reading has Lonnie Walker, a 6-6 exciting super talent headed to Miami of Florida for his college career who can play any position and often does.
That question was answered, at least through the quarterfinals of the 6A tournament, Sunday afternoon at Temple University’s Liacouras Center in a thrilling 70-61 win over Plymouth Whitemarsh that set up a state semifinal for the Red Knights against Archbishop Ryan Tuesday night back in North Philly.
Walker was Walker when it counted most. He scored 10 of his 20 points in the frantic fourth quarter as the Red Knights rallied in the final two minutes.
He opened the fourth quarter with a three-point play, a dunk and a basket off a dribble-drive. He grabbed rebounds and created havoc on defense.
“I knew what I had to do,” said Walker. “It was just about unleashing the beast and playing my game. I didn’t want to lose this game.”
Walker had a lot of help all game long.
Senior Tyrone Nesby scored the first 11 points of the game for Reading and finished with 20 points.
Senior Jose Genoa Batista scored 12 points, all coming in the second quarter when the Red Knights erased PW’s three-point lead after the first quarter and took a 37-32 halftime edge.
Senior Isiah Cook, who scored 11 points, had crucial back-to-back baskets in the paint late in the fourth quarter.
His first basket tied the game at 61-61 with 1:54 left.
He then grabbed a rebound off a PW miss and at the other end scored again to put Reading up 63-61, a lead the Red Knights would not relinquish.
Plymouth Whitemarsh was mixing it up in an intense, physical game for the second time in less than 48 hours. A lot to ask of a high school basketball team but the Colonials, despite 22 turnovers, refused to show fatigue as they hung in there with a fresher opponent.
Down 44-36 early in the second half, PW climbed back in a hurry to tie it up at 50 heading to the fourth quarter.
Its deep rotation of 11 players gave the Colonials spark.
Kevin Tilghman come off the bench and scored 14 points in the second half. Ahmad Williams led the Colonials with 15 points.
Tilghman’s two free throws gave PW a 61-59 lead with 2:10 left in the game but the Colonials would not score again.
“Every game, it’s a test of character,” said Reading coach Rick Perez. “We were quickly humbled because they took the lead. It’s very important your seniors step up. You can’t do it without them.”
Walker and his fellow seniors are now headed to their second consecutive Final Four.
It is the 13th time Reading has reached the PIAA state semifinals. The Red Knights have only advanced to the state championship game twice and have never won it.
“Two years straight, it’s a huge accomplishment,” Walker said. “Shows how hard we’ve been working. (Senior leadership) is one of the main things. We’ve been here before. We know what it takes to win. We know how hard it is. We know the environment. We know how everything is going to be. It’s all about who’s going to play harder. It’s just that simple.”
Get more comments from Walker and highlights of the game at the Highlights link above.