Poor perimeter shooting dooms ’Canes
South Fayette (56) Vs. New Castle (42)
By RON PONIEWASZ JR.
BRIDGEVILLE — The New Castle High boys basketball team made a living on the perimeter all season.
Last night, it spelled doom for the Red Hurricane.
New Castle shot just 5 of 32 from behind the arc in dropping a 56-42 WPIAL Class AAA semifinal-round matchup to South Fayette at Chartiers Valley High School.
The ’Canes finished 16 of 55 overall from the floor.
“Perimeter shooting was a reason we won 10 out of 11 games. It’s kind of been a reason we’ve struggled in the first few games of the playoffs, though,” New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said. “Tonight, it just wasn’t very good.
“We felt like we got some really good looks from 3 and we didn’t knock them down.”
The top-seeded Lions (22-1) will meet Montour (18-7), a 49-44 winner over Blackhawk, in the WPIAL championship game Friday at Duquesne University’s A.J. Palumbo Center at a time to be determined. South Fayette, which won the Class AA state championship last year, is ranked No. 1 in the WPIAL in Class AAA by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It will mark the first appearance in a WPIAL basketball championship game in school history for South Fayette.
Fourth-seeded New Castle (18-7), ranked fifth by the Post-Gazette, will compete in the PIAA playoffs. The state playoffs in Class AAA open March 11. If South Fayette loses against Montour, the ’Canes finish as the No. 4 seed out of the WPIAL and would have to compete in a play-in game Tuesday. Should South Fayette claim the crown, New Castle will return to action March 11 as the No. 3 seed.
Regardless of where the ’Canes finish in terms of seed, they will open the state playoffs against a Pittsburgh City League opponent.
“There’s a maturity time, because there’s a gap now,” Blundo said. “We’ll get some shooting in and maybe a scrimmage.
“This is a hungry bunch of kids. When you look in their eyes, you’ll see it. They lost tonight, but they’re still hungry. I’ll coach hungry kids any day.”
New Castle trailed 12-5 after one period, but the Lions missed at least four shots in the paint in that frame and missed an opportunity to take control early.
“These guys calmed me down,” said South Fayette coach Rich Bonnaure of his team’s sluggish play. “They know when the ball goes up, it’s 32 minutes of execution. Whoever executes better will win.”
Said Blundo, “Give them credit for us missing our shots early on. But I’ll give my guys credit for maybe making them play faster than they wanted to in the first quarter.”
The Lions built the buffer to as much as 12 on two separate occasions in the second quarter (22-10 and 26-14) before settling for a 28-18 lead at the break.
New Castle’s shooting woes were apparent at half. The ’Canes were just 8 of 28 from the field, including 2 of 17 from behind the arc.
“They got in our face a lot,” New Castle’s Corey Eggleston said. “They were in the helping lanes a lot. They did a lot of stuff that we weren’t used to. They stepped up and we weren’t used to it. We were kind of shaky at first, but I thought we got better as the game went on.”
The ’Canes were getting just one shot on a lot of their possessions in the first 16 minutes. New Castle snared just four offensive boards in the first half, while the Lions pulled down 12 defensive caroms.
“When a team defends well like South Fayette does, you have to find a way to get some easy baskets,” Blundo said. “Easy baskets are pivotal in games like this. You have to get easy baskets somehow and it starts with rebounding.”
Said Eggleston, “We didn’t crash the boards as much as we should have. Especially on the offensive end.”
Bonnaure knew rebounding would be key. His team finished with a 28-22 rebounding margin.
“That was the main thing I wanted us to do, hold them to one shot,” he said. “They’ll really hurt you if you give them enough chances.”
The ’Canes had one strong flurry in the first half where they attempted three 3-pointers on one possession, while grabbing two offensive rebounds. Anthony Richards capped that possession with a deep triple to close the gap to 18-10 with 4:55 left in the second stanza.
New Castle, which never led, got no closer than eight points in the second half when Shawn Anderson hit a bucket just 10 seconds into the third period. The ’Canes did show signs of life late in the third period when Malik Hooker completed a three-point play with 56.4 seconds to go, cutting the gap to 41-32.
However, Josh Patterson recorded a three-point play at the other end to give South Fayette a 44-32 lead going to the fourth.
The Lions pulled away in the fourth, building their largest lead of the game at 54-32 with 4:05 to go on a basket by Patterson. His bucket prompted the fans from both sides to start heading for the exits early.
“I give my guys a lot of credit, they fought as hard as they possibly could have for 32 minutes,” Blundo said. “They never quit.”
Eggleston paced the ’Canes with 14 points, seven rebounds and four steals. Twelve of Eggleston’s points came in the second half. Anderson was next with 13 markers on 5-of-11 shooting, with three assists.
Mike Lamberti registered game-bests in points (22) and rebounds (14) for the Lions, who were 24 of 50 from the field.
“Lamberti is a great basketball player,” Blundo said. “You don’t see a lot of plays made like that in high school basketball, like turnaround jumpers.
“He really has a nice mid-range game.”