ASTON, Pa. —
The ESPN production trucks and satellite dishes jutted out from behind Neumann University's Mirenda Center Sunday afternoon. A line snaked its way down the sidewalk from the entrance of the arena an hour before the game even began. When the doors finally opened, every spot in the 1,450-seat facility was quickly filled and a two-deep ring of fans hung over the balcony railing — with hundreds turned away.
La Salle coach John Giannini and Temple's Fran Dunphy made sure they were courtside, as did every major high school basketball fan in Southeastern Pennsylvania.Chester (Pa.)
, the most fabled high school basketball program in the state, was facing another budding state-level team that's recently toyed with national attention, Philadelphia Catholic League powerhouse Neumann-Goretti (Philadelphia)
And no one wanted to miss it.
It pitted two teams about 10 miles apart that has never played each other — until the Sunday showdown.
After the summit between two of Pennsylvania's best, Neumann-Goretti may not want to see Chester — and specifically, 6-foot-7 senior forward Richard Granberry
— again after the Clippers' devastating 58-41 victory.
The Clippers, ranked No. 20 in the Xcellent 25, improved to 19-3 overall, while Neumann-Goretti fell to 17-5.
While everyone focuses on Chester's Arizona-bound Rondae Jefferson
, deservedly so, it's Granberry who often gets overlooked. It's his defensive presence inside and his rebounding that enables Chester to remain a strong favorite to win its unprecedented third-straight PIAA Class AAAA state championship. He finished with 14 points and 15 rebounds.
It was a game for a half.
Chester took a 25-17 lead into halftime, then the Clippers' superior size inside, namely Granberry, began to surface. The teams changed leads four times in the second quarter before Chester's Conrad Chambers
gave the Clippers a 14-13 lead they wouldn't relinquish.
Neumann-Goretti never got within single digits again. Chester outscored the Saints 19-5 in the third quarter. Neumann-Goretti's outstanding junior guard, Ja'Quan Newton
, was a non-factor, corralled by Darius Robinson
(who did pick up four fouls keeping up with Newton).
Newton was held to five points, on 2-for-5 shooting, when the game was still competitive. He finished with eight points on 3 of 8 shooting. Chester held Neumann-Goretti to 16 of 51 shooting from the floor.
"If the ball doesn't go in, you won't win, it's that simple," Neumann-Goretti coach Carl Arrigale said. "When our shots didn't fall, we started to panic. We let it affect the way we played and it affected our whole game. We didn't get back on defense and gave them a lot of easy baskets."
Granberry, meanwhile, stole the attention.
"My teammates looked to me when I get heated, and they get heated," Granberry said. "There is a rivalry there between us and Neumann-Goretti. Everyone thought we were going to lose, some people really did think that. We wanted to prove a point and I think we did tonight. I wanted to show what I can do."
Jefferson was selected the MVP of the game, after scoring a game-high 20 points and 10 rebounds.
Chester was irritated by some of the talk last year that Neumann-Goretti was the best team in the Philadelphia area and that the Clippers were avoiding them.
"This is a game we wanted to play for a while," Jefferson said. "This meant a lot to play and win this game, especially what we can do on national TV. Our fans were here, it was a big game and we wanted to show people what Chester is about and how good we are."
Actually, it was a win-win for both teams. Neumann-Goretti certainly won't see another team as good as Chester in the Philadelphia Catholic League playoffs or in going for a fourth-straight PIAA Class AAA state title. Chester, at least for a half, picked up more big-game experience as the PIAA Class AAAA district playoffs begin. The Clippers may not see a faster team than the Saints.
With a little more than four minutes left to play, the once-packed arena began to empty. The Clippers wanted to prove their point that they're not only the best in Southeastern Pennsylvania, but continue to be the best in the state.
Clippers coach Larry Yarbray was waiting for his team to explode like this. The Clippers' intensity has been a little uneven this season. But as the state playoffs near, Chester is beginning to find that higher gear.
"It seems the bigger and better the opponent, we do find that extra gear, maybe we've just taken winning for granted," Yarbray said. "As a coach, you're never satisfied, but I always knew we could play like this. We always want to get better and this game was about proving a point: Who the best team is in this area. Maybe we'll stop hearing the critics in Philly."
Point taken.Watch more videos of Chester basketball