A simple glance at the Beach Ball Classic championship trophy and Imhotep Charter (Pa.) coach Andre Noble knew he had to get his hands on it.
In fact, he let his intentions known to Myrtle Beach mayor and tournament executive director John Rhodes shortly after his team advanced to the Beach Ball title game on Friday night.
“I want that gold ball,” Noble said. “I need to take it back home (to Philadelphia, Pa.) with me.”
Apparently, Noble’s players aspired for much of the same.
The Panthers put a bow on a solid run through the Beach Ball Classic, claiming a 78-76 win over Evanston Township (Ill.).
A David Beatty put-back at the buzzer provided the winning margin, after Evanston Township standout Nojel Eastern knocked down three free throws to tie the game on the other end.
“I had to hustle to get it,” Beatty said. “I felt I let my teammates down by fouling (Eastern) on his 3-point shot, so I had to make sure I got it to allow my team to win.”
By no means was it easy, though.
Imhotep found itself in a 15-point hole in the game’s opening minutes, as the Wildkits started 5-for-7 from 3-point range. But instead of trying to erase the lead in one foul swoop, it chipped away at the Evanston Township lead, getting it down to two by halftime.
“I thought we kind of exhaled a little bit, and you can’t do that against teams like this,” said Evanston Township (Ill.) coach Mike Ellis. “That contributed to a lack of focus at the foul line, figuring this is going to be easy. But we didn’t stay dialed in.”
The Panthers would take their first lead in the early stages of the second half, and build it to as many as 11 points. But much like Imhotep, the Wildkits would also absorb their opponent’s body blows, and keep plugging along.
Up three in the final 20 seconds, Evanston Township’s Nojel Eastern was fouled while attempting a 3-pointer by South Carolina commit David Beatty. Eastern would knock down all three free throws, tying the game at 76-all.
On the ensuing possession, Imhotep’s Daron Russell would get a shot off that proved no good. However, Beatty redeemed himself, following up on Russell’s errant shot for a rebound, and putting up a shot at the buzzer that proved to be a game-winner.
Russell, who earned Beach Ball Most Valuable Player honors, led Imhotep with 25 points, while Koby Thomas scored 19 in a winning effort.
Eastern’s 28 points led all scorers.
Imhotep came down to Myrtle Beach hoping to establish itself as one of the nation’s elite prep teams. According to Noble, the Panthers have accomplished just that.
“Our resume speaks for itself,” he said. “Between our non-league wins and coming down here to Beach Ball proves that. But our ultimate goal is to win city and state championships, so I’m hoping we learn to play together and use these experiences to get better.
ET (76): Malcolm Townsel 16, Nojel Eastern 28, Elyjah Williams 14, Chris Hamil 13, Jaheim Holden 3, Ryan Bost 2.
IC (78): David Beatty 15, Daron Russell 25, Bernard Lightsey 12, Donta Scott 2, Fatayn Wesley 2, Elijah Taylor 1, Jamil Riggins 2, Koby Thomas 19.
Halftime: ET 34-32. 3-pointers: ET 8 (Townsel 2, Eastern 3, Hamil 3); IC 5 (Beatty, Russell 2, Lightsey 2). Team fouls: ET 17, IC 22. Fouled out: Chereef Knox (IC). Technical fouls: None. Records: ET 13-2, IC 8-1.