By Matt Popchock
Following Wednesday night’s game at Chartiers Valley veteran head coach Joe David talked about how his team appreciated the challenge of having the former WPIAL Class AAA champions in their section.
That’s good, because considering Mount Lebanon survived a hard-fought battle against another elite program for its fourth win in five tries on the young season, the reigning Quad-A champs are not in a position to complain about much.
The Blue Devils (1-0, 4-1), the No. 4 team in boys’ Class AAAA per MSA Sports, relied upon persistent defense late in the first half and persistent offense late in the second to edge the No. 9 Colts (0-1, 5-2) 54-50 in an intense Section 4 opener for both schools. It brought Chartiers Valley’s five-game winning streak, which included three in the KSA Classic Tournament at Disney World, to an end.
“This was just a real tough test for us, and I thought we passed it,” David said. “I think we’ll step out of here tonight better than we stepped in.”
Senior forward Paul Lang stepped into several key shots down the stretch and nailed them, as he racked up a game-high 23 points, 12 of them in the fourth quarter, and snagged four rebounds before fouling out in the final 30 seconds to help Lebo win a seesaw final period and thus, the game.
“Since I was in foul trouble I knew I had to play smart and, no matter how hard it was, control my actions,” Lang said of those final eight minutes. “I knew that if I just stayed relaxed we were going to win.”
It didn’t seem like such a sure thing the way Chartiers Valley started. In a first quarter marked by turnovers and missed opportunities for both squads, the Colts gradually took advantage of an open perimeter. Mike Boulus and Zach Wallace each hit three-pointers and senior guard Steve Burda, who led the Colts with 22 points, added another to get the home crowd into it. Mount Lebanon’s Ryan Hensler decided he had seen enough and started attacking the glass, scoring five of his six points to help cut the lead to 13-11 before the quarter expired.
The ball handling issues that dogged the Blue Devils in the first spread like a disease in the second. Mount Lebanon went on an 8-0 run and dominated the Colts 19-4 in that quarter to turn a tight matchup between two South Hills powers into a suddenly one-sided affair. Lang got going, as did senior guard Evan Eaton, who finished his night with 14 points; meanwhile, the Blue Devils’ energetic man-to-man defense took Char’ Valley out of sync, forcing one turnover after another, and stoked Lebo to a comfy 30-17 halftime advantage.
However, whatever fiery coach Tim McConnell said to his Colts in the locker room worked, as Char’ Valley began the second half with greater intensity and turned the comfort into discomfort. Burda played his best basketball of the night, and the Colts played role reversal, going on a 16-4 scoring spree to erase the 13-point deficit midway through the third quarter. Luke Hagy, who had an unusually quiet night, hit a few free throws to help Mount Lebanon maintain its lead, but Bruda gave momentum back to Char’ Valley with an NBA three at the buzzer to make it 39-36.
All it took was a few ticks off the fourth quarter clock and a three-ball by senior forward Matt Noszka, who contributed 15 points and ten boards, to complete the comeback and tie it up. But defensively Mount Lebanon adjusted to Char’ Valley’s tempo, and the Colts managed just three field goals in a gritty final period, while the inside game of the Blue Devils regained and preserved the lead.
“We came out flat in the third quarter, and I wasn’t happy about that, but that’s growing pains,” David said. “You’ve got to compete, and [in the fourth quarter] I thought our guys competed.”
With under three minutes left in regulation and Lebo holding on by a 49-48 margin Lang hurried the ball up the floor and stopped in the middle of the key, freezing the Char’ Valley defense, and made what proved to be the game-winning jumper. It was one of a number of open looks in the fourth quarter that he did not waste.
“They had three or four guys on their press…with a defense like that, they wanted us to play slow,” Lang remarked. “The key for us was passing a lot, and keeping our head up the court…which led to more layups.”
Such effective ball movement was evident in the closing seconds when the Colts needed to foul to stop the clock. Lang watched his teammates put on a passing clinic that left them flat-footed and killed most of the remaining time.
Now that time has run out on the first month of the season, Chartiers Valley will wait till after the holiday break to try and start a new winning streak when it hosts Canon-McMillan Jan. 4. Meanwhile, Mount Lebanon must come back to school and get fired up for a home date with arch-rival Bethel Park that same night.
Click here to relive any or all of the action from our Game of the Week, thanks to our friends at the MSA Sports Network.
For continuing coverage of WPIAL boys’ basketball, be sure to check back with Mr. High School Sports throughout the 2010-11 season!