Nationally ranked Imhotep Charter dashes New Castle’s hopes for state championship

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Friday, March 25, 2022 | 10:29 PM


HERSHEY — New Castle wanted to hold for the final shot of the first half, yet Imhotep Charter grabbed a rebound, hit a buzzer-beating 3 and ran to the locker room up 11.

“That shot described how the first half went for them,” New Castle senior Mike Wells said. “They couldn’t miss.”

Facing a nationally ranked opponent with multiple Division I recruits, New Castle fell behind early and spent three-and-a-half quarters chasing after Imhotep Charter in a 54-39 loss Friday night in the PIAA Class 5A final at Giant Center.

Imhotep (28-4) scored the game’s first 14 points, yet New Castle (27-3) didn’t fold. The Red Hurricanes cut the deficit to six points in the second quarter and were within nine with about three minutes left in the fourth.

But against an opponent considered the most talented in the state, New Castle couldn’t close the gap. Imhotep’s Justin Edwards, a 6-foot-7 junior who has Kentucky among his college offers, scored a game-high 20 points.

The Panthers shot 57% from the field in first half including a 5-for-6 start for Edwards.

“They came out really hot,” New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said. “They’re fantastic. Edwards is fantastic. … Those are great players. They make contested shots.”

New Castle (27-3) tried to stay close with 3-pointers. The team attempted 30 and made nine, including five by Wells and three by Isaiah Boice. Wells scored 19 points and went 5 for 11 on 3s, but had only three points after halftime.

Boice finished with 13 points.

Imhotep’s length and quickness kept New Castle away from the basket. The Red Hurricanes attempted only 16 shots from inside the arc and made just six. The team also attempted no free throws.

“I knew we had to shoot it outstanding because it was just going to be so hard to score around the rim,” Blundo said.

New Castle was seeking its second state championship after winning in 2014.

The state title was the eighth for Imhotep, which has won them all since 2009. Their victory Friday continued a trend this weekend of nonboundary schools winning state titles. Among the first eight trophies awarded by the PIAA, only one went to a traditional public school.

Blundo said there’s an “inequity” in the state playoffs that needs to be fixed.

“NBA teams don’t play (NCAA) Division I basketball teams,” he said. “Division I teams that have scholarships don’t play Division III teams for championships, because circumstances are different. The ability to obtain players is different. It just is. So you have to acknowledge it and handle it, because it hurts kids.”

But Blundo made clear that he wasn’t criticizing Imhotep Charter or coach Andre Noble.

“The kids for Imhotep … they’re not doing anything wrong,” Blundo said. “They’re simply playing by a set of rules that permits it.”

New Castle fell behind 14-0 before Wells made a 3-pointer with about three minutes left in the first quarter. Wells made two more shots and Boice added another to cut Imhotep’s lead to 18-10 after one quarter.

The Red Hurricanes inched closer late in the second quarter when Wells and Boice made consecutive 3s to cut Imhotep’s lead to 27-21. But the Panthers finished the first half with a dunk by Ma’Kye Taylor and a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Rahmir Barno, another junior with Division I offers.

“Shots going in at the buzzer in all circumstances are momentum builders for the other team,” Blundo said. “That one was huge.”

Imhotep led 32-21 at half and then scored nine of the first 11 points in the third quarter. The largest lead was 19 points late in the third, before New Castle tried again to rally.

Wells, Jonathan Anderson and Boice hit consecutive 3s for a 9-0 run, and the lead was 44-34 with six minutes left in the fourth. The Red Hurricanes later cut the lead to nine with about three minutes remaining on a basket by Boice.

“I wanted people to know we have heart,” Wells said. “They won by 15, but we played until Coach Blundo took us out. We played until that buzzer sounded. I wanted everyone to know we gave it our all.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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