Imhotep Charter School’s players gave coach Andre Noble a nice birthday gift Friday night – a berth in the championship game of the 36th Beach Ball Classic at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.
The Philadelphia school defeated Dillard (Fla.) 80-52 to reach the title game in its first tournament appearance.
“It’s been an incredible experience just to play in it,” Noble said. “For us to get a chance to play in the championship, that’s what we came here for. We’re pretty good every year so it’s great to get a chance to play in one of the premier national events in the country and show people how we play.”
Imhotep (7-1) will meet Evanston Township (Ill.), a 57-44 winner over Pace Academy (Ga.) in Friday’s other semifinal, in the championship game set for 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Dillard (11-4) will face Pace in the third-place game at 5:30 p.m.
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Imhotep’s guards controlled the game both offensively and defensively.
Point guard and Rhode Island commitment Daron Russell recorded 23 points, seven rebounds, seven steals and three assists while hitting 4 of 7 3-pointers, 6-3 shooting guard and South Carolina signee David Beatty added 18 points, four rebounds and four assists, and 6-0 junior Bernard Lightsey contributed eight points, four steals and three assists.
In addition to the offensive production, their pressure on the ball made entry passes difficult and kept Dillard from fully exploiting its advantage down low.
“I thought Daron did an incredible job of pressuring the basketball, and so did our other guys of really getting into the [bodies] and making entries difficult,” Noble said. “We played solid defensively. We allowed a little too much at the rim, but a solid defensive effort. That’s a good team, and to hold them to 52 points that’s not a bad performance.”
We always play tough on defense. Our coaches don’t like when people get paint touches, so they discipline us when that happens. That’s just the way we play. That’s our game style. Don’t let it get inside, make them shoot, and when they have to shoot you have to have a hand up to contest the 3-pointer.
Imhotep guard and South Carolina signee David Beatty
Jordan Wright, a 6-6 senior who has committed to play football at Kentucky, had 31 points and nine rebounds for Dillard and made 11 of 16 shots from the field and 9 of 13 from the free throw line.
Wright’s fellow inside presence, 6-8 Florida State commitment Raiquan Gray, had three fouls and no points in the first half and finished with nine points and seven rebounds in 26 minutes.
“Our big kid ended up picking up a couple fouls and that changed our rotation and changed what we were able to do,” Dillard coach Darryl Burrows said. “We didn’t take advantage of our size. We knew they were a real good team and knew they were going to have some run outs, and [Russell] got real good at penetrating and shooting his shot.”
Imhotep shot 57 percent from the floor while holding Dillard to 39 percent.
“I think that’s a really, really good team,” Burrows said. “They play hard, and they shoot the ball well and get out and run well, so you need to score points against them.”
Imhotep recorded 15 steals to just four for Dillard, leading to a 30-11 edge in points off turnovers and 8-0 advantage in fast break points. Ten of the steals came before halftime, when Imhotep held a 17-point lead.
“We are all tough guards,” Beatty said. “We want to turn teams over and turn them into buckets. That’s what we like, we like getting buckets.”