King boys trip Episcopal in Nelson Classic

Conner Delaney, center, of Episcopal Academy, battles for a loose ball with Kenneth Wilson, left, and Dennelle Holly of Martin Luther King CHARLES FOX / Staff

The first 10 seconds of Martin Luther King's performance Friday afternoon against Episcopal Academy perhaps perfectly encapsulated the Cougars' difficulties adjusting to a new roster that has just two returning players from last season.

Anticipating his team would win the opening tip at Widener, King coach Sean Colson told his team what he wanted to see on its first possession.

One player, however, didn't absorb the message, so Colson called a timeout with 7 minutes, 50 seconds left in the first quarter.

"Those mistakes, maybe today you can get away with it," Colson said. "We're a little bit better team than they are, and they're undermanned. But you do that against Imhotep . . . "

The Cougars escaped with a 44-41 win over the Churchmen, who are still without Navy commit Nick Alikakos as the 6-foot-7 senior forward recovers from a sprained ankle.

Both teams struggled offensively throughout the afternoon contest at the Pete and Jameer Nelson Play-by-Play Classic.

In fact, King senior Ricardo Monteiro finally scored the game's first points with three free throws with 2:07 left in the first quarter.

Only King's Elijah Kiah-El (10 points) and Episcopal's Conner Delaney (20 points) scored in double figures.

Adjusting to new faces notwithstanding, Colson wouldn't accept that as an excuse for Friday's lackluster performance. He also channeled former 76ers executive Sam Hinkie.

"It's hard with guys not playing [together] . . . but at the end of the day we've had enough practice time," Colson said. "A lot of things are just about trust. Guys just won't trust. I hate to say it [because] everyone is saying it now, but trust the process."

King (7-3) lost to Public League power Imhotep, 60-47, on Dec. 15 and followed that with a 2-point loss to Perkiomen Valley (5-1). The Cougars' third loss came against Math, Civics and Sciences (8-1).

"We're a work in progress," Colson said. "I never want to be the best now. I want to be the best in February and March, so we're just going to keep working."

Kiah-El, who transferred from George Washington, also led the Cougars with seven rebounds. Dennelle Holly, another addition from Washington, finished with eight points, including 6 of 6 attempts at the foul line, all in the final frame.

King led, 19-16, at halftime and entered the fourth quarter ahead by seven points before silly fouls and turnovers helped Episcopal get to within 37-34 with about four minutes remaining.

King will play Pub rival Del-Val Thursday. Episcopal travels to Shipley on Tuesday.

Martin Luther King 7 12 12 13 - 44

Episcopal 4 12 8 17 - 41

MLK: Elijah Kiah-El 10, Qadir Burgess 8, Ricardo Monteiro 9, Dennelle Holly 8, Ronny Wilson 5, William McNair 2, Mikey Robinson 2.

EA: Conner Delaney 20, Kyle Virbitsky 1, Jack Fitzpatrick 2, Jack O'Connell 9, Matt Dade 9.

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Cartera@phillynews.com