Xzavier Malone played only a supporting role in Martin Luther King's drive to a Public League League basketball championship last season.
Now, the 6-foot-4, 170-pound junior is a prominent wing guard for Plymouth Whitemarsh. Boosted by his career-high 27 points Wednesday night against Pennridge, the Colonials find themselves three wins away from their second PIAA Class AAAA state crown in six seasons.
"This is actually a lot better," Malone said after the Colonials nipped the never-say die Rams, 73-70, in a second-round thriller at Spring-Ford. "I feel more part of the team. That's the big difference."
Pennridge, playing without senior guard Zack Muredda, who suffered a knee injury near the end of the first quarter, trailed by 10 with 51/2 minutes remaining. But the Rams found a way to take Malone and company to the wire.
Junior lead guard Dan Long registered a triple-double for the scrappy Rams, with 24 points, 11 rebounds (five on offense), and 10 assists.
"He's strong as an ox, cagey, relentless, and he does a great job of changing speeds," PW coach Jim Donofrio said. "That was a great performance."
Malone shot 10 for 14 from the field (2 for 4 from beyond the arc) and 5 for 7 from the line. He added seven boards, two blocks, and two assists.
"Xzavier Malone came to us with no idea how we do things," Donofrio said. "He's been getting a lot of talks from me and a lot of lessons. The learning curve takes a while. Just because you're talented, doesn't mean it comes easily."
Malone will see former coach Sean Colson and many of his old teammates on Saturday afternoon. The Colonials (27-2) will take on M.L. King, a 70-56 victor Wednesday over District 3 titlist York, at a neutral site and time to be determined.
Forward Devon Monteiro-Gray and wing guard Jimmy Murray chipped in 18 and 17, points, respectively, against Pennridge. Malone's two free throws produced a 70-67 edge with 47 seconds to go.
In nearly willing Pennridge (26-5) to a come-from-behind win, Long shot 9 for 22 from the floor (2 for 7 on threes) and 4 for 6 from the line. Ryan Cuthbert (18 points) and Joe Molettiere (17) also made solid contributions for the Rams.
Pennridge 17 16 11 26 - 70
Plym. Whitemarsh 18 19 18 18 - 73
P: Dan Long 24, Joe Molettiere 17, Joe Unangst 7, Ryan Cuthbert 18, James White 2, Kyle Yoder 2.
PW: Andre Mitchell 11, James Murray 17, Devon Monteiro-Gray 18, Xzavier Malone 27.