If last night’s WPIAL Class 3A quarterfinal were a prize fight, the Neshannock High boys basketball team had Aliquippa on the ropes.
The Lancers couldn’t miss from the outside, which then opened up driving lanes and scoring chances inside. Before long, Neshannock was in the midst of a 17-3 run to take a 46-32 third-quarter lead while Aliquippa was being whistled for a technical foul from frustration. The No. 2-seeded Quips avoided the knockout punch, and willed themselves back to come away with a 68-65 victory last night at the Ne-Ca-Hi Field House.
“Basketball is about a game of runs,” Aliquippa coach Dwight Hines said. “We did a great job of staying within the system, playing aggressive defense and being able to chip away, chip away, not looking at the clock, not looking at the points, just playing our game.”
Neshannock, despite being forced into turnovers by the Quips’ pressure defense, still led by five going into the final quarter and after seven lead changes in the last 3:30, had two chances under 10 seconds to win it. After trading free throws and Aliquippa up three, the Lancers lined up for an out-of-bounds play with 2.5 seconds left, trying to set up point guard Chris Scott in a pick-and-roll at the top of the key for a game-tying 3-pointer. Scott found an opening, but the exchange wasn’t clean and pulled him further from the hoop with his last-second attempt ultimately falling short.
“We wanted to set a screen for Chris Scott at the top of the floor and then we were setting a baseline screen for Niko Rylott just trying to get that quick 3,” Lancer coach John Corey said. “It wasn’t a clean exchange and that makes it a little bit difficult, but I’m proud of my guys. Aliquippa is a heck of a team. Their athleticism and pressure they’re able to put on us eventually caught up.”
The Lancers (18-6) now play the waiting game. Seven teams from the Class 3A bracket qualify for the state playoffs. Aliquippa plays North Catholic in the semifinals on Monday. If the Quips win, the Lancers go to the playoffs.
“It’s a great group of seniors, a couple sophomores and a junior,” Corey said. “I’m proud of their effort. Let’s be optimistic and hope that there’s more basketball ahead for us and hopefully get in the state tournament and get the opportunity to put the uniform back on again.”
After trailing 16-15 after the first quarter, Neshannock used buckets from Turk, Scott and Spencer Perry to tie the game at 29 with two minutes left in the half before continuing the hot shooting in the early third quarter — forward Jake McCormick converted a three-point play then Rylott had a four-point play — to expand the lead.
But the the Quips’ defense ratcheted up the intensity and played its way back into the game, picking off passes on their full-court pressure and forcing Neshannock into empty possessions. The 6-foot-8 McCormick, who finished with 11 points, picked up a fourth foul late in the third quarter, allowing Aliquippa offensive rebound opportunities as they closed the scoring gap.
“Over time, that pressure obviously forced us into plenty of turnovers,” Corey said. “That repetitive pressure. Our turnovers let that lead evaporate, then after that, it’s the end of the story.”
In the final minutes when Aliquippa did go to the foul line, the Quips made the most of their opportunities and sank 22 of 30 shots. Marlin Devonshire was 9 for 10 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter alone, while he and Quips teammate Zuriall Fisher shared game-high scoring honors with 23 tallies.
NESHANNOCK VS. ALIQUIPPA
WPIAL CLASS 3A
PLAYOFFS AT NEW CASTLE
Chris Scott 2 7-7 12, Preston Turk 5 5-7 18, Niko Rylott 5 1-1 14, Jake McCormick 5 1-1 11, Max McHale 1 0-0 2, Russell Kwiat 0 0-0 0, Spencer Perry 4 0-1 8. Totals: 22 14-17 65.
Marlin Devonshire 6 11-12 23, Dewayne Revis 1 3-4 6, William Gipson 2 0-0 4, Gevod Tyson 0 0-0 0, Eli Kosanovich 0 0-0 0, Larry Walker 3 1-4 8, Michael Dawkins 2 0-0 4, Zuriall Fisher 8 7-9 23. Totals: 22 22-30 68.
NESHANNOCK 15 20 16 14 — 65
ALIQUIPPA 16 13 17 22 — 68
3-point goals — Aliquippa 2 (D. Revis, Walker), Neshannock 7 (Turk 3, Rylott 3, Scott 1).