Imani Christian boys start fast, defeat Geibel in WPIAL Class A semifinals

Saturday, February 25, 2023 | 4:26 PM

For three of the four quarters in Saturday afternoon’s WPIAL Class A semifinal between Geibel and Imani Christian Academy, the fourth-seeded Gators proved they could go toe-to-toe with the top-seeded Saints.

However, the one quarter that doomed Geibel was the first, as Imani Christian bolted to a 31-4 lead en route to a 75-57 victory at Mt. Lebanon High School.

Imani Christian advances to Thursday’s WPIAL Class A championship against second-seeded Union at Petersen Events Center.

Geibel will play in the third-place consolation game Tuesday against third-seeded Carlynton before taking part in the upcoming PIAA Class A Tournament.

For the Gators, the early hole was too much to overcome despite playing well from the second quarter through to the final buzzer.

“It was a terrible start,” Geibel coach Don Porter said. “I think our kids were kind of in shock coming into the gym and seeing their size. We didn’t get any whistles (for Imani Christian fouls) in the first quarter, and it was just a real tough start.”

Standing at 6-foot-11, Imani Christian’s Alier Maluk took control of the game early. Maluk used his size to score a game-high 21 points, including 11 in the first quarter. Maluk showed his versatility by dunking the ball inside and stepping beyond the arc to hit a 3-pointer in the opening eight minutes.

Teammates Avery Wesley, Dame Givner and RJ Sledge also started strong as each hit a trey and scored inside. Wesley and Givner finished with 14 points apiece, and Sledge was close behind with 13 points. Virgil Hall, who also scored five points in the first quarter, finished with nine points for the Saints (17-6).

Thomas Kolencik and Jeffrey Johnson each scored to account for the four first-quarter points for the Gators (17-7), who saw their WPIAL-best 15-game winning streak end.

Geibel got going on offense in the second quarter as Jaydis Kennedy and Trevon White started to find their rhythm. Kennedy and White each connected on three baskets inside, and White buried a three-pointer as the Gators managed to pull within 37-22.

Kennedy led the Gators with 20 points, and White finished with 17 points. At the half, Geibel trailed 52-29.

In the second half, Imani Christian opened the third quarter with a 7-0 run that gave the Saints a 59-29 lead and initiated a running clock.

But even with the game decided, Geibel kept coming. Johnson scored on a lay-up before Kolencik scored on a follow-up to slice Imani Christian’s lead to 19.

Imani Christian led 65-44 after three.

Kennedy scored eight more points in the fourth quarter for the Gators, who outscored the Saints in each of the final three quarters.

“After the first quarter, I told them not to stray from the gameplan,” Porter said. “We just had to stay the course, and we did. Once they got to the 30-point (lead), we knew it was going to be tough. But we have hard-nosed kids, and they weren’t going to quit. I’m happy with the way we played against a team of that caliber.”

Geibel’s effort wasn’t lost on Imani Christian coach Omar Foster.

“We’ve got a lot of respect for them,” Foster said. “I thought they fought hard in that second quarter. I still think they’re a good team.”

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