By Matt Popchock
Trinity was just two points from a great start to its season, but as head coach Joe Dunn put it afterward, the Hillers (1-0, 2-1) will have to settle for a good start.
Oddly enough, only one point was scored in the four-minute overtime period, but it was all Canon-McMillan needed to survive the championship game of the EQT Energy Classic with a 53-52 win at Canon-McMillan High School Sunday night.
Both offenses were deliberate in running their sets, but neither had anything to show for its patience until the final five seconds. Senior guard David Williams swiped the ball cleanly away from junior counterpart Christian Koroly at midcourt and was fouled going for a potential game-winning layup.
“When he went to dribble, he hesitated with his right hand,” Williams said. “As soon as he did that, I knew I had to go after the ball, and I knew I would at least get fouled.”
Williams’ four points weren’t as impressive as Koroly’s 11, but his fourth point–which came off his second free-throw attempt with 1.7 seconds left–was the one that mattered most.
“After that first one, I just had to clear my mind, and I knew I was going to make it,” he added.
The Canon-McMillan student section reacted by rushing the floor on the ensuing play, but Dunn, as it turns out, called timeout before Trinity inbounded the ball one last time, which erased any possibility of a technical foul on the hosts. But it also gave him time to set up one last shot.
“You need two seconds for a catch-and-shoot, so we could still have pulled it off,” Dunn said. But his players were too well defended to take a clean shot before the buzzer signaled a tournament championship and 3-0 start for the Big Macs.
“This may be the most together team I’ve been on,” said junior guard and tournament MVP Brett Haney, who led Canon-Mac with 15 points and five rebounds Sunday, and combined for 51 points over all three games. “Our defense is getting us points. The intensity was there. I think it was a great weekend for us.”
The Big Macs didn’t execute well early on, as Trinity jumped out to a two-possession lead, but they closed the first quarter on a 10-3 run for a 12-10 lead. The second quarter was more of a back-and-forth affair, and a sloppier one at that.
As was the case in the first two games of the tournament, Canon-Mac got hot from the outside, led by Haney, hitting five three-pointers as a team to open up a 32-21 lead at the half. The Big Macs cut off the interior, and Trinity seemed flustered on both ends in the final minutes of the first half.
“We had to take away dribble penetration. They shot 68 percent from the free throw line their first two nights, so we talked about getting on the glass,” head coach Rick Bell said. “We knew it was going to be a battle.”
Some good work down low from big man Jared Deep, who finished with ten points and seven boards, and did his fair share of battling, kept the Hillers within reach. In the second half, Trinity took a page from Canon-McMillan’s book, worked the perimeter, and shot well from long range. Berton Miller came off the bench to score all 12 of his points off four second-half three-pointers, including a buzzer-beater to trim Canon-Mac’s advantage to 42-39 going into the fourth quarter.
Corey Hunsberger, who had a nice weekend for Trinity, came to life in the second half as well, registering 11 of his 14 points in that span and adding five rebounds and three assists on the night.
“They did do a good job defensively, and they hit a couple shots. They were getting up into us a little bit more [than Burgettstown and Waynesburg], so we just had to be patient,” Haney said. “As long as we did that, we knew we could get good shots, but it was a little frustrating.”
Matt Douglas’ jumper from the top of the key preserved Canon-McMillan’s lead, but his subsequent foul led to a game-tying free throw by Deep with 32 seconds left. A miss on his second attempt resulted in a jump ball for Trinity, but the Hillers never got a shot off, thanks to an effective double-team and a Williams steal off Koroly that proved to be an omen.
“We had a couple breakdowns tonight that almost hurt us,” Bell said, “but we’re pretty happy to be where we are right now.”
NOTES: Kenyaada Brown added ten points for Canon-McMillan…Washington defeated Waynesburg 56-53 in the third-place game, led by 28 points from Josh Wise…Kolbi Phillips scored 25 in defeat for the Red Raiders…next the Big Macs open AAAA-Sec. 4 play Friday versus PIAA finalist Mount Lebanon…Trinity is home for a non-section contest against South Park Tuesday before hosting Ringgold in AAA-Sec. 5 action Friday.
(Special thanks to Michael Dongilli of EQT for his help with our coverage.)
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)