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Muhlenberg boys basketball grinds out victory against Reading High in double overtime

Jan. 10—Another chapter in a longtime rivalry between neighboring programs proved to be a thrilling affair on Tuesday night, as Muhlenberg defeated Reading High 87-74 in double overtime in a Berks I boys basketball matchup at Laureldale.

A sold-out crowd roared from start to finish in what Muhls coach Matt Flowers described as a win not only for his team but also the Muhlenberg and Reading communities.

"I thought our guys persevered tonight and played very well," Flowers said. "This is what it's all about. There's no bad blood. It's all respect to the Red Knights — they do a phenomenal job. But when it's a hometown (rivalry) you have to win it.

"I'm proud of all our communities. They showed up tonight."

Junior Shermar Killen scored a game-high 29 points and had a team-high 10 rebounds for the Muhls (3-1, 8-4), who were looking for their first win against the Red Knights (2-2, 6-5) since defeating them 63-61 at home on February, 8th 2022.

With the score tied at 72-72 at the start of the second overtime, a defensive rebound by Killen kickstarted a 9-0 scoring run, during which he made 5-of-6 from the foul line to help put the game away.

"It feels amazing; it's a great feeling because we've been preparing for this for a while now," Killen said. "I wasn't really that nervous (when taking the foul shots late). I feel like I was made for that moment."

"It feels great," said senior Alex Collado, who scored 24 points for the Muhls. "Last year we tried to do it and we failed. We were 0-2 last year, so this year, we had to come out. The county is open so we knew that there was nobody on any team we couldn't stop. We knew we had to come out and win this game and prove ourselves."

While Killen's foul shots were clutch down the stretch, it seemed as though Muhlenberg's entire roster was exceptionally confident from the foul line as it strived to prove itself Tuesday night.

The Muhls converted 32-of-39 free throws as a team and missed just one in regulation. They made 13-of-14 in decisive fashion during the final overtime period. Senior Kyle Archie was a perfect 10-for-10 from the foul line and scored 13 points in the game.

"We practice free throws every day," Flowers said. "We grew up from (going) 11-of-20, 10-for-20. We grew up tonight. I'm super proud of our kids. Our conditioning kicked in and we stepped up from the free throw line."

In addition to the fouls, junior Jayden Kantner was another difference maker, as he scored 12 points for the Muhls in overtime and was 6-of-6 from the foul line in the second overtime period. He was 8-of-10 overall on foul shots and finished with 19 points.

His heroics in overtime almost weren't necessary, however, as he was called for an offensive foul with 3.5 seconds left in regulation on what would have been a game-winning layup.

"Jayden Kantner was hot tonight," Collado said. "He was getting downhill so we were giving the ball to him and he was working the floor, finding people open and getting the easy buckets."

"It was a group effort, but his speed is unmatched speed," Flowers said about Kantner. "I don't think anyone can guard him when he's running that fast. He came off the bench today and did a phenomenal job for us. He handled the ball in the second overtime so I was proud of him as well."

Meanwhile the Red Knights were 10-of-13 from the foul line and had three starters foul out: Jeremiah Camara, Weshly Rosario and Malik Osumanu. Aside from the foul trouble, poor shot selection cost Reading High greatly in overtime.

The Red Knights were 0-for-5 from the floor with three missed 3-pointers during the second overtime period before Yadiel Cruz scored a layup with 53.1 seconds left to close out the scoring for Reading High.

Cruz finished the night with a team-high 27 points for the Red Knights and 11 rebounds.

In the first overtime, Cruz scored a contested floater on Collado with 20 seconds left to tie the game 72-72.

From there, strong defensive pressure allowed the Red Knights to force a turnover in the closing seconds of the first overtime and prevent Muhlenberg from taking a game-winning shot attempt. Reading High was playing its first game against Muhlenberg since former Red Knights coach Rick Perez, the winningest coach in Reading High history, became an assistant with the Muhls.

"At the end of the game it just comes down to composure, shot shot selection and execution," Red Knights coach Francis Camara said. "There were a couple of shots where we could have tried to get better looks and been more patient. And they executed at the end, that's all it was. They took advantage of some of our shot selections and they had the better shots.

"It's just little things like that — you just got to execute. We can't continue to make some of our mental mistakes that ended up hurting us later on down the stretch. We had three guys foul out. We got to play better defense without reaching. We play our defense, we work our butts off playing 94 feet and we're trying to make people uncomfortable, but we also have to play a little bit smarter."

While they would outlast the Red Knights in overtime, Muhlenberg had to claw back into the game during the second half.

The Muhls were outscored 22-13 in the second quarter after holding a 20-15 lead after the first. Muhlenberg trailed by as many as seven after leading 22-15 in the second quarter, but never trailed by more than six in the second half.

Kanter gave the Muhls their first lead since early in the second when he scored in transition with 4:17 remaining in regulation to make it 57-56. Muhlenberg held a 63-60 lead with 36.6 left in the fourth before senior Daquan Burgess drained a deep 3-pointer for the Red Knights to tie it.

Collado and Jeremiah Camara exchanged field goals in quick succession during the closing seconds to force overtime. Jeremiah Camara, a freshman, ended the game with 13 points, all scored after the first half.

For Flowers, switching to a zone defense was a pivotal adjustment that slowed Reading High's offense down enough to earn the victory in overtime.

"We went to the zone," Flowers said. "We were at five fouls, we didn't want them shooting free throws. We had to get out of the 3-2 zone because they were attacking the middle on us. So we went to 2-3, closed out on their shooters a little, and they played well and finished the job."