It's still early in the basketball season, but a little challenge, mixed in with a sprinkle of lost focus can be a good thing. Especially if you're considered the best team in the state, like Chester High, which is laden with talent and a mission - winning the PIAA Class AAAA state championship.

The Clippers received a little test on their way, getting by a feisty Prep Charter team, 74-70, last night at Widener University's Schwartz Athletic Complex, in the fourth annual Pete Nelson Classic, sponsored by Chester alum Jameer Nelson.

The Clippers improved to 9-1 overall, thanks to a 24-point performance from Karon Burton, 18 points from Pittsburgh-bound Nasir Robinson, 11 rebounds from Russell Johnson and 11 points and 7 rebounds from Rahlir Jefferson.

Chester did not exactly play its best. The Clippers nearly frittered away a nine-point lead under a wave of sloppy play. But Chester prevailed, when Robinson iced the game with a pair of free throws with 18.5 seconds left in the fourth period.

Still, it did not sit too well with Clippers coach Fred Pickett.

"We were terrible from the beginning of the game until the end," Pickett said. "We didn't play great defense all night. I don't know what it was. To me, it looked like we were going through the motions, against a good team. We allowed them to do too many things, which is something we don't allow other teams to do."

Burton, the Clippers' catalyst, played another key role in the victory. The quicksilver point guard penetrated the Prep Charter defense for layups and also had five assists. But there was a lesson learned.

"We just didn't play together tonight," Burton said. "We got the win, that was important, but it wasn't our best. We need to slow it down. We were too out of control sometimes, too sloppy, especially in the end. We didn't slow it up. That comes, I suppose, when you're playing in front of a big crowd."

It also comes from being the target of every team that they'll face this season. The Clippers take great pride in being considered the best team in the state. But with it, they realized last night, comes everyone's A-game.

"We learned we have to keep our heads," Robinson said. "We lost our focus a little there, but we came back and dealt with it. I think we learned we have to play hard every night." *

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