Free throws lift Lancers to OT win
Neshannock (85) Vs. Summit Academy (77)
By DAN IRWIN
Summit Academy had Neshannock High right where the Knights wanted it.
Unfortunately for the Knights, they also put the Lancers the one place they didn’t want them — at the foul line. There, Neshannock responded with a clutch effort down the stretch to overcome a 10-field goal deficit and claim an 85-77 overtime win last night in WPIAL Section 2-AA action.
The home court victory gave the Lancers (7-1 conference, 13-3 overall) sole possession of first place and dropped Summit (6-2, 9-6) to second.
Brandon Marinelli keyed Neshannock with 31 points, including a 13-of 20 effort at the charity stripe. John Sansone added 22 markers.
Arley Townsend’s 27-point night paced Summit, which used a pressure defense to score one bucket after another off Neshannock turnovers throughout the evening.
“We had so many unforced turnovers, and that’s very uncharacteristic for us,” Neshannock coach John Corey said. “And that’s due to the pressure that Summit Academy puts on you. It’s hard to try to emulate that in practice, that pressure and that intensity, because those kids just do such a great job.
“The Townsend kid is just a phenomenal player. He’s lightning quick with the basketball. We struggled all night to say in front of him.”
Knights coach Art McCray couldn’t have been more pleased with the offense his team was able to generate via its aggressive defense.
“That’s our thing,” he said. “We average probably about 20 steals a game. The kids love it. They all take pride in that. Our defense is our offense. People told us it was going to be tough coming up here. I told the guys, no matter where we go, we make it tough on them by pressuring them.
“When we put the pressure on them, teams cannot run their traditional offensive set. And they can’t practice against it, because they just don’t have the personnel to do what we do in our section. It’s hard to replicate that.
“I think we pretty much executed everything we wanted to do tonight — except when it came to the foul line.”
The Knights ended up just 10 of 34 from the stripe, compared to the Lancers’ 31-of-41 effort. In overtime, Neshannock drained its last 11 foul shots in a row.
“Down the stretch, from the free-throw line, we played very well,” Corey said. “I thought we also did a much better job in that overtime period of taking care of the basketball. But hitting the free throws was key for us.”
Freshman David Burkes — 7 of 7 overall from the line — lit the fuse on the Lancers’ free throw explosion, hitting five straight late in regulation to rally Neshannock from a two-point deficit to a 68-65 lead. Sansone later hit one of two foul shots, but Summit countered with buckets by David Murray and Dale Johnson — the latter with three seconds remaining — to send the game into overtime at 69-all.
The extra stanza started off slow, with Marinelli failing to find the range on his first three free throws before canning a fourth. That, though, put the Lancers ahead to stay and started Neshannock’s string of 11 consecutive free throw conversions.
“A game like this, it comes down to experience,” McCray said. “I’m glad we went through this and they realize how important it is that they have to focus on their foul shots. On Saturday, we spent two hours shooting nothing but foul shots, believe it or not. We hoped that would help us finish way better than we did tonight.
“This type of game, the hurt helps, for them to experience that and now, I don’t want to feel that again.”