’Canes refuse to fold in face of defeat
New Castle (54) Vs. Hampton (50)
Feb 09, 2013
By Joe Sager
New Castle News
ALLISON PARK — Attention to detail, extra effort and intensity.
Those three tangibles, along with immense talent, make the New Castle High basketball team a true force. And keep it an unbeaten one, too.
The Red Hurricane passed its toughest test to date last night with a 54-50 win at Hampton in a classic WPIAL Section 3-AAAA battle.
“Our intensity is what helped us win the game,” New Castle’s Malik Hooker said. “It wasn’t that we played better; it was just the intensity we came out with in the second half.”
New Castle (14-0 section, 21-0 overall), turned up the intensity in the second quarter. The ’Canes roared back from an early nine-point deficit to post a 29-26 halftime lead.
They fell behind again, this time by eight (42-34), in the third quarter, but overcame that, too.
The intensity showed once more when Malik Hooker battled for and won a crucial rebound off a missed Talbots shot with 7.9 seconds to play. Extra effort paid off when Hooker subsequently swished two free throws to put the game out of reach, 54-50.
“When we were in the huddle, coach was telling us we needed that rebound. That just showed who the tougher team was. When there’s a loose ball, we always want to get it. That’s what I kind of did,” he said. “When I went to the line, there wasn’t any pressure. I shot about 200 free throws (Thursday) before this game because I knew this was going to come down to a free throw situation so that it would have been easy and natural to me when I went to line. We shoot about 100 in practice, regardless, but I felt I had to come in and get some more shots because I just felt like this was going to be a tougher game.”
New Castle, ranked No. 1 in the WPIAL in Class AAAA by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and No. 5 in the state by the Patriot-News of Harrisburg, won its 45th-straight regular-season game. The team’s last regular-season loss came exactly two years ago last night, on Feb. 8, 2011, with a 58-54 setback at Blackhawk. Overall, the ’Canes have won 48 of their last 49 games.
“It was a great game between two really good teams out there in a hostile environment and a great atmosphere. Guys were fighting on both sides. No one should be hanging their head after a night like tonight. It was so awesome to be part of this game as a coach,” New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said. “I love the way my guys responded. We were down nine in the first half and there was no shame in being down nine to Hampton. They are a good ballclub. We just kept fighting and made enough plays in the end to win the game.”
The Talbots (10-4, 18-4) frustrated New Castle with their 2-3 zone defense and distinct height advantage. Poor shooting didn’t help the ’Canes, either.
“We didn’t shoot it great tonight and that’s part of basketball. We kept fighting and got ourselves some second opportunities. We had nine offensive rebounds,” Blundo said. “We only won this game by four points and we had 21 more possessions than them. We had seven more offensive rebounds and 14 less turnovers, so that’s 21 more possessions than them. That shows you how efficient they were and we weren’t. But it was due to Hampton; they played good basketball. We give them the credit for that.”
It was a close battle in the teams’ first meeting as well. New Castle clung to a 46-44 lead after three quarters on Jan. 15, but erupted in the fourth for a 75-54 win. There was no eruption this time, but the ’Canes were able to defend their 44-43 lead heading into the final quarter and slowed the game down, uncharacteristically, to preserve the win.
When we play Hampton, this is what you get,” Blundo said. “You put your big boy pants on and you go out and battle. A couple balls bounced our way; there are all kinds of things that have to happen to win a close game, namely making free throws.”
New Castle struggled doing that in the fourth quarter, but so did Hampton. In the final minute, the ’Canes held a 52-50 lead, but missed on a pair of one-and-one situations at the line. The Talbots return-bricked one of their own before New Castle clanged another front end of a bonus free throw situation — squandering six key potential points.
Unable to put the game out of reach, Hampton had a chance to win or tie, but a shot clanged off the iron and Hooker elevated and came down with the ball. He was fouled quickly with 7.9 seconds to go. The junior stepped to the line and calmly swished both of his freebies.
“We expected this all week. Games like this come in handy,” Hooker said. “This is what shows you how many veterans you have on your team because they have to lead you to the victory. Our leaders on the team led us to victory.”
The Talbots became the first team to challenge the ’Canes deep into a game. All of their other wins were decided by 16 points or more.
“New Castle was able to make some plays against us defensively to win the basketball game,” Hampton coach and Westminster College graduate Joe Lafko said. “We just hope in the playoff tournament, down the road, that we’ll maybe have another shot to play New Castle.”
Hampton’s Ryan Luther led all scorers with 21 points.
Shawn Anderson paced New Castle with 17 points, while Hooker finished with 15, including a 5-for-6 effort at the foul line.
The ’Canes wrap up the regular season Monday when they welcome Sharon for a nonconference battle. Former New Castle boys assistant and girls head coach Jason Rankin is in his first year as the Tigers’ head coach.