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PHILADELPHIA—The PIAA state basketball tournament is a bright-lights stage for blue-chip players like Reading’s Lonnie Walker.
He stole the show on Tuesday night at Temple’s Liacouras Center.
The University of Miami recruit, with Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga in the building, unleashed his wide array of skills, athletic ability and talent by scoring 35 points as Reading defeated Archbishop Ryan 57-51 in the 6A state semifinal.
At last, the Red Knights, longtime a brand name in District 3 basketball, have made it back to the state championship game for the first time since Stu Jackson took them there in 1973.
The RKs, who face WPIAL champion Pine Richland on Saturday night at Giant Center, have never won a state championship in basketball.
Pine Richland spoiled an all-District 3 6A finals by halting surging Carlisle 65-50.
Walker showed what he has talked about during this tournament.
He understands what it takes to win these high-profile, intense, win-or-go-home games full of physical, aggressive play.
“It’s all about who’s going to play harder,” he’s said. “It’s just that simple. Who’s going to play every second, every minute like it’s their last game ever. It’s all about your heart, your energy and how you lead.”
He played on his own level—a notch or two above the competition—duringhis 15-point second quarter as Reading erased an 11-point Ryan lead with 3 minutes left in the quarter and went into the half up 29-27.
Highlight after highlight and they came lightning fast. He dunked twice, drilled a trio of three-point shots, finished at the rim on an acrobatic drive and on defense forced Ryan turnovers with three steals in 48 seconds.
The Liacouras Center was overrun by thousands of Reading fans and they couldn’t get enough.
So Walker gave them another 16 points in the second half and fittingly finished the game with his third dunk.
He made 13 of 19 shots, had four steals and a handful of rebounds.
When he touches the ball, you could hear the decibel level rise.
But the plot didn’t develop for Walker for a while.
Ryan had the start it needed to make it to its first state championship game.
Led by do-everything guard Izaiah Brockington--also headed to Division 1 basketball at NJIT--who scored 14 points in the first 12 minutes, the Raiders from the Philadelphia Catholic League confidently built a 27-16 lead.
Brockington also had the assignment to chase Walker on defense. When Walker turned up the heat, Brockington was unable to match him and the Raiders lost traction in a hurry.
They never recovered from Walker’s all-out assault. Reading’s lead swelled to 49-35 midway in the fourth quarter and, as so many District 3 teams do so effectively, the Red Knights spread the floor with a four corners offense to drain clock and ride the lead to the finish.
For Reading, now 29-3, Wesley Butler scored 10 points.
Top scorers for Ryan, whichfinished the season with a 23-6 record, were Brockington with 16 points and Matiss Kulackovskis with 13 points.
Raiders’ center Fred Taylor had six points and added seven blocked shots.
Had the Raiders prevailed, it would have given Philadelphia area basketball teams a spot in each of the six state finals this weekend in Hershey.
Still, there’s no question that the best high school basketball in Pennsylvania is played in Southeast PA.
Catholic League teams Archbishop Wood (5A) and Neumann-Goretti (3A), Public League teams Imhotep Charter (4A) and Constitution (2A) and Girard College (1A) of District 1, which is located in the City of Philadelphia, are headed to Hershey.