By Peter Schnatz
Highly-touted Reading junior Lonnie Walker knew the game was in the bag the moment the ball left his fingertips and swished through the net as the third-quarter horn sounded at Temple University’s Liacouras Center Saturday afternoon.
Walker’s wicked step-back 3-pointer over the reach of Chester’s Marquis Collins was his way of telling the Clippers, “Thanks for playing.”
Sure, Chester didn’t do itself any favors in a season-ending, 73-64 defeat to the District Three champions, but Walker made a huge difference.
Turnovers, poor foul shooting and a bevy of missed opportunities in their comfort zone — the paint — led to the Clippers’ demise before a crowd of mostly Reading fans. Saturday marked the first time Chester has lost in the PIAA quarterfinal round since 1999. The Clippers are 28-3 all-time in the Elite Eight of the state tourney.
“They played smart basketball, played to their strengths,” Chester coach Larry Yarbray said. “A lot of times they got Lonnie in transition and when he wasn’t able to get uncontested looks he passed to open shooters. They took their time (and) they were real patient, plus they made foul shots. That was the difference of the game.”
Walker could feel the electricity when he sank the trey at the end of the third quarter. He left his shooting wrist hang in the air for a few moments after he extended Reading’s advantage to 12 points.
It was the highlight of a stupendous performance by Walker, who is being recruited by UCLA and Villanova, among other Division I programs.
He’ll have his pick.
“It transfers into the fourth quarter,” Walker said of the buzzer-beater. “It gets everyone pumped up. Making that 3-pointer made us feel as though we had the upper hand as of (that moment). For some reason we had the home crowd, so that helped. We just played our game and that’s the main key.