Jeff McDevitt (@JeffMcDev)
There may only be three days left before the new year, but Imhotep Charter and Chester made sure to get their submission in for the best game of 2012 before the calendar is flipped over.
Rondae Jefferson’s acrobatic reverse layup with 7.8 seconds left proved to be the winning basket Chester’s (6-2) 63-61 victory over Imhotep late Friday night at Widener University. Imhotep’s (6-3) final possession ended in a steal by Chester’s James Kirksey (6 points).
“That was the longest seven seconds in the world,” Chester guard Conrad Chambers said about the last defensive possession.
The clutch reverse layup followed by the steal opened the floodgates for the largely pro-Chester crowd to storm the court and mob the MVP Jefferson, who finished with 18 points and 15 rebounds. Brandon Austin was named MVP for Imhotep; he finished with 18 points and eight rebounds.
“It’s amazing. I told him I’d never seen him practice that shot. I’ve seen him do a lot of things in practice, but I’ve never seen that shot. But looking at it I was like ‘oh my god’ and it went in, you can do nothing but celebrate,” Chester coach Larry Yarbray said.
A matchup of the defending AA and AAAA state champions, this game was the grand finale of the two-day-long Pete and Jameer Nelson Holiday Classic, and it did not disappoint the sold out gymnasium on the campus of Widener University.
The first half was highlighted by a dunk from the University of Arizona commit Jefferson, who got stuck in the air and threw the ball off the backboard to himself for the jam. The dunk put the crowd into a frenzy.
“I wanted to throw it harder, I didn’t throw it hard enough, but yes, it was on purpose.,” Jefferson said about the off-the-backboard slam.
Despite the dunk, it was the Panthers of Imhotep who led at the half and for most of the game, behind the deadly shooting of Deryl Bagwell (13 points) and as well as the Providence College bound Austin. Imhotep benefited from Chester’s cold shooting both from the field and at the free throw line to take a 50-47 lead into the fourth quarter.
In the fourth quarter though, it was Rondae Jefferson imposing his will and getting tough buckets inside to bring Chester back. A powerful Richard Granberry (12 points, eight rebounds) dunk, followed by a Chambers steal and layup tied the game at 61 and set the table for Imhotep to have the last shot in regulation. But a controversial back-court violation call on a pass from Austin to Devin Liggeons with just under 30 seconds left to go gave the ball back to the Clippers and allowed Jefferson to score the winning basket.
“I think my team was just exhausted and they lost focus. Between looking up at the scoreboard and the crowd, we lost focus.” Brandon Austin said.
The turning point in the game seemed to be when Chester began looking to get the ball to its 6-7 guard Jefferson in the post, where he could out-muscle smaller defenders. The strategy paid off and was exactly the recipe the Clippers needed to comeback.
“They had littler guards sticking me so my coach changed it around in the second half,” Jefferson explained. “Coach said get on the block and change the game, so I went down there and changed the game.”
With this victory, Chester won its 57th-straight game against an in-state opponent. The Clippers had their 61-game winning streak snapped this past week at the City of Palms Classic by one of the nation’s top teams, Lone Peak in Utah.
The Chester defense forced Imhotep to turn the ball over 23 times, but it was the controversial back-court violation that had Imhotep’s coach Andre Noble especially upset.
“It’s just sad. It’s sad for my kids to lose a game on a call like that that a middle school ref can make.” Noble said.
Chester’s next game is at Reading on Jan. 5, while Imhotep hosts Delaware Valley Charter on Jan. 3.
Highlights of the game can be seen below.