By Matt Popchock

It can certainly be said that Moon, the MSA Sports No. 8 program in Class AAAA, is a big team, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have room to grow.  That’s what head coach Jeff Ackermann thinks his boys did Tuesday night.

The Tigers (1-1, 5-1) used their mobile defense and an extremely efficient inside game to overpower Class AAA Elizabeth Forward 78-35 in the first round of the Moon Holiday Tournament just over two weeks after routing the Warriors (1-0, 4-2) in the West Allegheny Tip-Off Tournament Championship.  Elizabeth Forward had won three in a row between defeats.

“I felt like tonight we improved [since the first meeting], and as a coach, that’s really all you want,” Ackermann said.  “We contested shots, we blocked them…I couldn’t be happier with our defensive effort.”

How commendable was that effort?  Elizabeth Forward was held to one field goal in the first 6:40, the lone bucket coming from junior forward Eric Danko, who led the Warriors with 17 points, including 12 in the first half, and five rebounds.  He tried unsuccessfully to spark a comeback himself with his teammates stymied, as Moon basically put the game away at halftime by storming out to a 44-18 lead.

The Moon defense totally controlled the back end and cleaned the glass as well as any coach could want.  The Tigers out-rebounded EF 20-6 in the first half–with four of the Warriors’ boards coming from Danko–and 37-16 on the night.  Senior big man Aaron Johnson led Moon in that category with eight rebounds, and fellow forward Chidi Ifedigbo also chipped in eight, mostly of the defensive variety.

Johnson, whose 18 points paced Moon, set a tone for the ballgame by erupting for four early field goals and 12 first-quarter points, as he camped out along the baseline and took advantage of good ball movement by his mates, using his size to wreak havoc on the Warriors under the basket.  With Johnson taking what the Tigers gave him, they raced out to a 19-2 advantage and led 21-6 after one.

“The faster I start, the better I feel I play,” Johnson later said.  “It’s all about getting into an attacking mindset.”

Clearly Johnson’s teammates were thinking along the same lines.  Nine different players scored for the Tigers, whose aforementioned 44 first-half points were a season high.  Three starters and four players overall ended in double figures, with Kyle Henderson adding nine points.  Six of those came in the second quarter thanks to some hard work inside the paint, and he ended his night with six rebounds as well.

“We’re an inside team…we’ve got big guys who can shoot.  If we work inside-out, we can put a lot of points on the board,” Johnson added.

Among the other offensive stars for Moon were Brett Hoffman with 12, including two of the team’s four three-pointers, and Drew D’Andrea with 10, while sophomore Nick Korzi did a nice job running the floor and adding 10 points and three boards off the bench.

The second half, though Ackermann did call off the proverbial dogs and empty his entire bench, was more of the same.  Moon out-hustled EF on the defensive side and used a superb transition offense, with contributions coming from everywhere, to put the mercy rule into effect in the fourth quarter.

“We had four our five guys in double figures against Sto-Rox at the beginning of the year also, and I thought that was one of our best games,” Ackermann pointed out.  “We want to get as much balance as we possibly can.”

Moon will face Franklin Regional, which is tied for first in AAAA-Sec. 2, for the tournament championship Wednesday night after Elizabeth Forward takes on Knoch in the consolation game.

For continuing coverage of WPIAL boys’ basketball, be sure to check back with Mr. High School Sports throughout the 2010-11 season!

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