READING >> The second round of the state tournament has signalled the end for recent William Penn boys' basketball teams.
Wednesday night at Reading's Geigle Complex was no different.
The Bearcats slowly trudged from their locker room following a 70-56 loss to Philadelphia-based Martin Luther King with the realization just setting in after the PIAA Class AAAA matchup.
"Hate this time of year," William Penn coach Troy Sowers said to himself as he walked out, trailing his players.
The Bearcats (26-5) ran into schools like MLK (21-8) in each of their previous two trips to the second round. Last year, it was Abington. St. Joseph's Prep, with two Division-I college prospects, came the year before.
This MLK squad boasted a unique backcourt that Sowers could only describe as "lightning, cat quick."
Junior guard Jabri McCall, whose 12 points pushed the Cougars ahead early, is being recruited by Fairleigh Dickinson. Senior guard Sammy Foreman, whose game-high 24 points put away William Penn, entered this season with interest from a handful of Division I colleges.
Along with senior guard Tyheem Harmon, they sealed off William Penn's driving lanes to the basket. They poked out basketballs without a moment's hesitation.
"That's the best on-ball defense we've faced all season," Sowers said.
He added it exposed a weakness. Sowers suggested devoting more time to increased strength is a must if a future William Penn team hopes to make the quarterfinals, which MLK will do Saturday against Plymouth-Whitemarsh.
The Bearcats are slated to return most of their guards, including juniors Montrel Morgan, Trey Shifflett and Kristopher Johnson. However, Morgan accounted for all eight of their points against MLK.
"They took away one of our strengths, which is dribble-drive," Sowers said. "They made our turnovers points — every single time."
An early deficit became a 15-14 William Penn lead to open the second quarter, but those turnovers and transition points gave the lead back to MLK for the rest of the game.
Sowers said his team focused on slowing MLK's transition game, but McCall and Foreman had none of that. They were vital in forcing nine first-half turnovers, including McCall's swipe at the ball that he turned into a behind-the-back pass to Foreman at the other end for a 10-point lead.
Brandon Smallwood cut MLK's lead to just 38-34 in the third quarter, but the Cougars responded with nine straight points. That turning point padded MLK's lead enough when the Bearcats put together one last rally in the final three minutes. They twice trimmed the difference to five points, but no more.
"I think they'll appreciate what they accomplished," Sowers said. "Maybe next week. It hurts right now."
Smallwood, also a junior like William Penn's guards, supplied a team-high 16 points off the bench. Senior Jahaire Wilson had 15 points and nine rebounds in his last game.
"I probably texted these guys more than family members," Sowers said. "It's just difficult to see this come to an end."
His players talked of a deep state tournament run all season, like William Penn's 2009 trip to the PIAA title game. When the tournament bracket came out almost two weeks ago, MLK stood out as a tough second-round matchup.
The Cougars were the District 12 runner up, only because they lost by one point to Roman Catholic — considered by many to be Pennsylvania's best team in Class AAAA. MLK isn't far behind.
Sowers took some solace in his team being the school's first to win YAIAA and District 3 championships in the same season, but a void was obvious Wednesday night as the Bearcats left Reading.
"The ultimate goal is always that state championship," Sowers said, "and it's been elusive to York High for the 100-and-some years that we've been here."
Contact Matt Goul at 771-2045.
MARTIN LUTHER KING (70)
Harmon 3 1-2 8, Ladji Fofana 4 3-4 12, Marshall 2 2-2 6, Jabri McCall 5 2-3 12, Sammy Foreman 8 6-6 24, Samir 1 1-2 3, Bell 2 0-0 5, McFadden 0 0-0 0.
Totals — 25 15-19 70.
WILLIAM PENN (56)
Morgan 3 0-1 8, Shifflett 0 0-2 0, Shaw 1 3-4 5, Johnson 0 0-0 0, Jahaire Wilson 6 3-3 15, Brandon Smallwood 6 4-6 16, Boxley 1 0-0 2, Jacquez Casiano 3 1-1 10, Delmotte 0 0-0 0, Sweeney 0 0-0 0.
Totals — 20 11-17 56.
3-point goals — MLK 5 (Foreman 2, Harmon, Fofana, Bell), WP 5 (Casiano 3, Morgan 2).