’Canes grind out win over Hampton
New Castle (58) Vs. Hampton (42)
By Joe Sager
New Castle News
ALLISON PARK — Like rush-hour traffic, New Castle’s defense forced stop after stop after stop last night.
And Hampton wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry.
The Red Hurricane used a strong defensive stand in the fourth quarter to pull away for a 58-42 road win last night in a key WPIAL Section 3-AAAA boys basketball showdown.
Clinging to a 39-37 lead entering the fourth quarter, New Castle (7-0 section, 12-0 overall) raised its defensive intensity and created gridlock for the Talbots (6-1, 13-1) on the offensive end. The ’Canes shut out the hosts for the first 5:47 and limited them to just three points until the final 22.3 seconds.
“That’s always the key to our game. We like to get stop after stop,” New Castle’s Malik Hooker said. “Eventually, we know those stops will turn into points. That’s what we wanted to do in the fourth.”
New Castle’s offense went into overdrive as well in the final frame. The ’Canes opened the stanza with a 14-0 run.
“We shot it better in the second half. You have to make baskets to win games. It isn’t just good enough to defend,” New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said. “We defended pretty well, 42 points is a good number, but we just have to finish layups and we have to finish a couple of those open looks, which we eventually did. Credit goes to Hampton. They played really tough, obviously short-handed.”
The Talbots, ranked second in the WPIAL by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and second in the state by the Harrisburg Patriot-News, played without star senior Ryan Luther. The 6-foot-8 Pitt recruit was sidelined with an ankle injury he sustained in practice last week.
“He is an ACC recruit and player. You can’t take a player of a Ryan Luther’s caliber off a team and not miss some passion,” Hampton coach Joe Lafko said. “He is our leading scorer and rebounder. His presence is something you can’t duplicate. I am proud of the guys who played and we’re looking forward to getting Ryan back. New Castle is a good basketball team. They just had a little too much for us.”
Luther’s absence took some of the luster off the showdown, which was a rematch of the last year’s WPIAL Class AAAA title game and the 2012 WPIAL Class AAA championship. New Castle won both of those as well.
“I don’t think any team changes more with a guy like Ryan missing. Ryan is a 6-8 guard who can play inside out. He’s going to Pitt. He has everything you need to be a great player,” Blundo said. “Obviously, it’s a lot different without Ryan. Credit Hampton because they adjusted well and did some things a little different based on their personnel. They played a really tough, hard-nosed basketball game.”
The ’Canes, ranked first in the WPIAL and third in the state, pushed their section winning streak to 34. The team’s last section loss came at Blackhawk, 58-54, on Feb. 8, 2011. New Castle, which has won 68 of its last 70 games overall, saw its regular-season win streak improve to 58. But it wasn’t easy. The team struggled offensively in the first quarter and Hampton posted a 14-9 edge at the buzzer.
The ’Canes came alive to start the second quarter and produced a 13-0 run. However, they struggled to gain separation and the Talbots cut the deficit to 28-24 at halftime.
“I think it was a combination of a bunch of things. I think it was Hampton playing really well defensively. I think it was Hampton doing a really good job on the boards, too,” Blundo said. We missed some open looks. I thought a lot of it had to do with how hard they were contesting. If we played poorly throughout the course of the game, it’s because Hampton made us play poorly.”
New Castle’s lead inched back up to six, 34-28, in the third, but Hampton made another push and came within 39-37 at the horn.
Sensing potential disaster, the ’Canes went to work in the fourth quarter.
“We got outworked in the first half and that doesn’t happen to us,” New Castle’s Anthony Richards said. “In the second half, I think we outworked them and out-toughed them and I think that’s how we got the victory. Our intensity was better in the second half. In the fourth quarter, we made a couple steals and a couple big shots. That was it.
We came out in the fourth quarter and I don’t know how many turnovers we forced, but it’s all due to our toughness and intensity. That’s why we play so well. That’s what’s so special about being a Red Hurricane. That’s why I love my teammates so much. That’s what coach Blundo demands of us and that’s what we give.”
Hooker led all scorers with 17 points. He added seven assists. Jake McPhatter had 14 points and a couple key 3-pointers.
(In Wednesday’s newspaper: Joe Sager shares his thoughts on New Castle’s big win.)