As Chris Kinley threw down a monstrous one-hand dunk, Herb Stelly grabbed his Williamsport jersey and let out a joyous yell. Call it a mission statement.
Many who packed every seat at Williamsport's cavernous gym and stood at the top of the aisles Wednesday came expecting to watch a national power turn in a series of highlight-type plays. They came expecting to see basketball played at an exceptional level.
Turns out they did. They just saw it from the team they have been watching all season. Princeton Day Academy has a collection of outstanding Division I-bound players. Williamsport has the better team.
Jahad Thomas of Williamsport (5) drives against Princeton Day Academy’s Aquille Carr Wednesday at Williamsmport High School. View additional photos at cu.sungazette.com.
Jahad Thomas delivered a spectacular performance and every player coach Allen Taylor used made a big impact as Williamsport stunned Princeton Day, overwhelming it at times, while delivering a resounding 73-59 home win. The Millionaires (20-2) won their 11th straight entering Saturday's District 2-4 Class AAAA semifinal against Wyoming Valley West and showed that whoever they are playing, they always have a chance.
"I felt like we made a huge statement," Thomas said. "Knowing they have a team full of D1 players it was going to be tough, but they don't play as a team. That's one thing, we don't back down from anything. We brought everything we had to the table and we came out with a win."
Princeton Day (31-11) is a Maryland basketball factory that plays teams around the country. Nearly all its players are going Division I or are being looked at by Division I schools. None of it mattered. Many statewide have wondered how good Williamsport can be this season and Wednesday they provided an answer.
"There were a lot of people that were doubting us and whether we were going to be able to compete with this team," Kinley said. "We just stuck to our game plan and played the way we know how and we beat them by double digits. We kept our cool and fought back."
"We went out there and competed," Taylor said. "We weren't in awe of their talent, their size, their athletic ability or the skill they possessed. I told them if we go out there and do what we do and don't get caught up in the hoopla and nonsense we'll be OK."
From late in the first quarter on, they were much more. Williamsport used a 15-0 run that bridged the first and second quarters to take a 23-10 it never relinquished. Thomas put on a show, scoring 24 points and grabbing 10 rebounds while outperforming Seton Hall-bound point guard Aquille Carr. He scored nine second-quarter points and helped Williamsport take a 12-point halftime lead as well.
Princeton Day pulled as close as two in the fourth quarter, but Williamsport never buckled. Every time it appeared the Storm were about to take charge, Williamsport responded with vigor. A Herb Stelly putback pushed Williamsport's lead to 57-53 midway through the fourth quarter and the Millionaires ended the game on a 12-1 run.
Stelly was sensational, containing Carr and holding him to a quiet 23 points while also brilliantly running the offense. He dealt six assists and scored five of his points in the final quarter. Isaiah Washington added 14 points and 4 steals, Kinley (10 points) finished a rebound shy of a double-double, Achilles Watson did a little bit of everything and Thomas Ross and Greg Ousley were outstanding off the bench.
Carr was ESPN's 2011 Player of the Year and the Storm's front line was 7-feet, 6-8 and 6-7. It didn't matter. This was Williamsport's night. The crowd was as loud as it has been in years and it felt every bit as much as 1984 or 1999 as 2013.
"It was pretty electric. The Loyalsock game was packed but this was even better. It was exciting," Stelly said. "It shows us a lot. This shows us that we can compete with the best teams not only in the state but in the country. We went out and played hard and did a good job."
Once Williamsport adjusted to Princeton Day's height in the first quarter it was in business. After a slow start, the Millionaires took it inside, moved the ball well and received two big first-quarter 3-pointers from Ross. Stelly, Washington and Brice Harris took turns harassing and flustering Carr who missed 10 of his 12 first-half shots. Instead of playing tentative against the bigger players, Williamsport went right at them and hit 51 percent of its shots.
Princeton Day was so frustrated early in the second quarter when the Millionaires took control that a brawl almost broke out when it appeared Carr struck a Williamsport player under the chin. Taylor did a nice job breaking up what could have turned into an ugly situation and the near melee only heightened Williamsport's desire.
"We all have each other's backs," Thomas said. "We're a family."
"Even when it got a little sticky and there was pushing and shoving, they didn't back down," Taylor said. "When they closed the gap we didn't waver. I was very pleased with the resiliency and poise those guys showed to stay calm."
Kinley ignited the game-ending 12-1 run with a nice assist to Stelly. Thomas drew his third charge on the ensuing possession and Washington was the victim of a flagrant foul, second later. He sank both foul shots and when Ross found Kinley moments later for a layup that made it a 10-point game, the crowd erupted.
Thomas and Kinley combined to put an exclamation point in the game's final seconds. Thomas fed Kinley going down the lane and the Navy-bound center threw down the one-hand slam as Williamsport fans rose to their feet in near delirium.
"We didn't crack and it was a good learning experience," Kinley said. "I'm happy for the guys and for everyone who came to watch us play."
PRINCETON DAY (59)
Aquille Carr 8 5-8 23, Emmanuel Omogbo 3 4-4 10, Anton Waters 6 0-0 12, Brandon Better 2 1-2 5, Malik Kuworno 1 2-6 4, Jerron Martin 2 1-2 5. Totals 22 13-22 59.
Jahad Thomas 10 3-7 24, Isaiah Washington 5 3-4 14, Chris Kinley 4 2-4 10, Achilles Watson 2 2-3 6, Herb Stelly 3 1-2 7, Thomas Ross 3 0-2 8, Tyler Gardner 0 0-0 0, Greg Ousley 2 0-0 4, Brandon Fedoriw 0 0-0 0, Brice Harris 0 0-0 0. Totals 29 11-22 73.
Princeton10 14 19 16-59
Williamsport19 17 17 20-73
3-pointers: Princeton 2 (Carr); Williamsport 4 (Ross 2, Thomas, Washington).
Records: Williamsport 20-2. Princeton Day 31-11.