Imhotep Charter coach Andre Noble momentarily perplexed his Panthers at halftime of Thursday evening's contest against host Martin Luther King High.
The Panthers, who are ranked No. 17 in the nation by USA Today, fell behind early and trailed at halftime, which caused Noble to pose a question.
"Who are we?" Noble said. "They kept saying 'Imhotep.' I said, 'I know that. You guys get to define who you are.'"
The Panthers revealed themselves by squeezing King defensively en route to a 54-40 Public League victory.
Imhotep (13-2, 5-0 Public League), which trailed, 9-0, early and, 27-24, at halftime, held the Cougars to four points in the third quarter and just nine in the fourth.
"I told them at halftime that this is great," Noble said. "We needed this. We need to be here. I felt like last year our first one of these was in the Public League championship and it almost cost us the championship. Having one of these was great."
The Panthers needed overtime to dispatch King in last season's title game.
Stifling third-quarter defense did the trick Thursday. The Panthers won the frame, 20-4.
"It's always defense for us," said 6-7 junior Donta Scott, who continues to grow into a new role as the team's point guard. "If we pick it up on defense, the offense will come."
King senior guard Denelle Holly Jr. had his way early with 10 points in the first frame. Isiah Anderson added nine more for King, which only mustered two field goals in the second half (both by Holly Jr.).
Holly Jr. finished with 19 points on 6-of-13 shooting. Anderson finished with nine points and Will McNair added six points, all at the foul line.
"I felt like the heart of our team last year was Dave [Beatty] and Daron [Russell]," Noble said about his halftime talk. "'Now, who are you guys? Are you the guys that when you get down, you're gonna fold, or do you guys have something inside of you that'll pull out your best play?'"
The answer was clear.
Beatty and Russell are now at South Carolina and Rhode Island, respectively.
Current senior guard Bernard Lightsey led Imhotep with 16 points, with 4 of 6 coming from three. Junior forward Jamil Riggins added 13 points and five rebounds (four offensive) off the bench, while Scott finished with 10 points, five rebounds, two steals and a block.
"This was really important because we haven't been through anything like this when we're down and we're away," Scott said. "We listened to our coach and started picking things up defensively and went right at them."
Imhotep 7 17 20 10 54
King 15 12 4 9 40
IM: Bernard Lightsey 16, Jamil Riggins 13, Donta Scott 10, Chereef Knox 7, Dahmir Bishop 6, Elijah Taylor 2.
MLK: Denelle Holly Jr. 19, Isiah Anderson 9, Will McNair 6, Jerry Andrews 3, Hyseir Miller 3.