Free throws doom Union in ‘tough loss’
Lincoln Park (56) Vs. Union (51)
By RON PONIEWASZ JR.
The message hangs visibly in the boys basketball coaches office at Union High School.
“If you want to be in the game you better shoot 75 percent from the line,” Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt said.
The Scotties hit just 2 of their 8 free-throw attempts, including missing 3 of 4 in the fourth period, in a 56-51 WPIAL Section 1-A loss to Lincoln Park last night.
“This is a tough loss. The tough thing is the free throws,” Union coach Dave Smialowski said. “If we knock them down it makes the game different.
“We try to preach to them that they are going to win you big games and they are going to lose you big games. This time, those misses cost us. But I thought the kids played their butts off.”
The Leopards won the first encounter, 80-39.
“The last game, they just gave us a beating. We know we can beat them,” said Scotties senior guard Anthony Thomas, who netted a team-high 24 points. “We defended them well the whole game. At the end, they just got some shots to fall and our free throws weren’t falling.”
The loss drops third-place Union (2-3 section, 12-4 overall) two games behind Neshannock (4-1, 13-6) in the section standings. The Leopards (6-0, 13-5) can claim the section title outright with a win at home over the Lancers on Friday.
Union has three section games remaining and must win out to catch Neshannock for second place and have Lincoln Park upend the Lancers as well.
“We’re playing for seeding now,” Smialowski said. “We have to get ourselves in the right position, but we have to win out.
“Finishing in second place is important. These last three games are pretty much playoff games for how we want to sit in the playoffs; we want to get a pretty good seed. There’s a lot of good teams in Class A.”
The Scotties still have work to do as they travel to Monaca on Friday (1-5, 4-14). Union won the first matchup, 91-43, but the Indians are tied with Western Beaver (1-5, 7-7) for the final playoff berth in the five-team section.
“This was a disappointing loss,” Thomas said. “We worked hard all week.
“We just have to come to work (today) and get ready for Friday against Monaca.”
The Scotties held a 43-39 buffer through three periods but Chaquille Pratt scored four quick points to knot the contest at 43 with 7:14 to go.
Pratt finished with a game-best 30 points, 19 of which came in the second half.
“We were trying to get Pratt the ball the whole game,” Leopards coach Mark Javens said. “They understand we’re going to him, whether it’s in the post, away from the hoop, he just came out and played great.”
Thomas wasted little time putting Union back on top, draining a 3-pointer just 22 seconds later. The Scotties maintained a one-possession lead until Nate Majors hit a bucket with 3:28 to play for a 51-47 margin.
However, it would be the last time Union would dent the scoreboard the rest of the way. The Scotties missed two front-ends of a one-and-one, the first by Andre Jones with 1:10 left and the latter with 44 ticks remaining by Thomas.
Pratt buried a 3-pointer with 30 seconds left to give Lincoln Park the lead for good at 53-50.
“We knew even though we won by 41 the first time it’s not going to be like that this time,” Javens said. “This is a tough place to win, it’s loud in here.”
Thomas was errant on a 3-pointer on the other end with 15 seconds left and the Leopards’ Kyle Taylor secured the rebound. Taylor was fouled and he sank both foul shots for a 55-51 advantage with 12 seconds left. Thomas misfired on another 3-pointer with four seconds left and Lincoln Park was able to ice the victory.
Lincoln Park scored the game’s first basket, but Jones’ 3-pointer with 6:51 left in the first period put Union in front for the remainder of the half. The Scotties opened their largest lead of the half — at eight points — on two separate occasions, including 33-25 at the break.
“We came out with a little bit of a different game plan. We sagged in man-to-man and I think it really slowed them down,” Smialowski said. “They weren’t able to get any lanes to the hoop so I was happy with the (first-half) pace.”
The Scotties built their biggest lead of the game at 37-25 with 6:25 to go in the period on a jumper by Anthony Forletta, who followed Thomas’ effort with 10 markers.
“Forletta hit some big shots for us,” Smialowski said.
Pratt broke the Scotties’ momentum with a basket and Javens called a quick timeout.
“We wanted to make sure we were in striking distance,” Javens said. “We have to take it bucket by bucket and that’s what we told our guys on the sideline.”
Javens was recently appointed the Lincoln Park head coach. Mike Bariski, the school’s athletic director, was the head coach with Javens serving as the assistant. But Javens was standing during most of the games, prompting the WPIAL to send a memo to all schools a few weeks ago instructing them that, under PIAA rules, only the head coach was allowed to stand during games.