By Matt Popchock
At Alumni Hall they call Lincoln Davis “The Continental.”
On Tuesday night he captivated the populace with a dazzling array of passing, dunking, and outside shooting that nearly gobbled up North Allegheny for breakfast.
What “The Continental” didn’t count on, however, was a pair of Tigers going coast to coast.
The Central Catholic senior, with a defender in his face, made what appeared to be a game-winning three-pointer, only to see Ricky Minsterman score with 3.2 seconds left to give North Allegheny (3-1, 8-2) a thrilling 73-72 win over the host Vikings (2-3, 6-7) in AAAA-Sec. 3.
Mere moments after Davis’ three went down, his counterpart, J.C. Howard, fired a perfect home run pass to Minsterman, who finished with 17 points, for an uncontested layup that gave the Tigers a hard-earned victory.
“J.C. just made a really great pass,” Minsterman said. “All I had to do was take it and put it in.”
“I wasn’t about to call a timeout [after Davis’ go-ahead basket],” head coach Dave DeGregorio said. “I trust J.C. to make that play.”
Davis, who led all with 29 points, took charge early by notching first eight of the game for Central, including a pair of rainbows from outside the arc. Central Catholic opened up a lead of 31-19, and although the Tigers began clawing back in the latter stages of the second quarter, the Vikings were shooting over 62% at the half and were still ahead, 36-32.
In a game not only marked by key plays from long distance, but by aggressive and physical play that at times looked like a harbinger of the state track finals, N.A. found its legs in the third quarter, forcing multiple turnovers and scoring in transition.
The Tigers shot 10 of 17 from the field, and Howard, who led the Tigers with 27 points, fired in a three from the perimeter midway through the period that gave North Allegheny a 44-42 edge, its first lead since the end of the first quarter. Conversely, Central’s offense cooled off with a meager 4-of-10 performance in the third while it watched the Tigers end the quarter on an 11-4 tear that was capped by Howard’s buzzer-beating three from the left wing.
But the Vikings did not completely crumble under N.A.’s unrelenting pressure at both ends of the floor, and they fought back in the game’s final minutes. Sam Calhoun’s three-pointer from the right elbow tied it at 62, and an ensuing three from the same spot off an inbound play after a timeout gave Central Catholic a 65-62 advantage with three minutes left, an advantage that shortly ballooned to five points.
Howard helped burst the balloon with six critical free throws in the fourth quarter on a night when both teams started out cold from the line, and North Allegheny’s inside game, led by Minsterman, gradually tipped the Section 3 scales back in N.A.’s favor.
“We just weren’t playing all that well in the first half,” Howard said. “In the second half, we showed what we can do when we play as a team.”
The Tigers host Seneca Valley and visit North Hills before traveling to Shaler next Friday with first place likely on the line. Central Catholic, which has dropped three sectional games in a row, will head to Butler Friday trailing Seneca Valley by half a game for the last playoff spot.
“I thought this was just a terrific high school basketball game,” DeGregorio said, “and that Lincoln Davis is really something.”
OTHER BOYS’ BASKETBALL NOTES:
Last Friday Plum lost an opportunity to seize first place in AAAA-Sec. 2 from Woodland Hills, the team that edged the Mustangs for the section’s final playoff berth last year, in a 64-58 overtime setback. However, the Mustangs (3-1, 8-3) aren’t going away. Their top gun, Cornell recruit Nolan Cressler, who had 27 in defeat against Woody High, racked up 16 points for Plum on Tuesday in a 59-43 win over Penn Hills. The Mustangs remain just a half-game behind the Wolverines.
Elsewhere in the eastern suburbs, we saw both a routine occurrence and a rare occurrence from Drake recruit Micah Mason. In a 56-47 loss to Mars in AAA-Sec. 1 play, Mason led Highlands with 23 points…but did not hit a single three-pointer. Mason, like Cressler, knows how to stick those; he needs 42 to tie Chartiers Valley/Duquesne product T.J. McConnell’s career record of 334. In addition, Mason, despite the recent struggles of the Golden Rams (3-8, 2-3), needs just 73 points to reach 2,000 for his career.
Speaking of Class AAA, keep an eye on Uniontown (5-0, 9-2), which maintained its lead in Section 3 with a huge 53-51 win over Greensburg-Salem Tuesday. Jordan Pratt paved the road to victory with 15 second-half points and 22 overall, and furthermore, the Red Raiders appear to have good team chemistry right now, and simply find ways to win. They rank seventh in the classification in total offense, averaging about 60 points a game.
In Class AA, Sheldon Jeter, not looking the least bit road-weary from that weekend trip to State College, led Beaver Falls to an easy 85-56 win over Avonworth to stay atop Section 6. Jeter poured in 26 points, grabbed 12 boards, and blocked five shots. But that wasn’t the only great performance in Class AA Tuesday night, nor was it the only one from a Beaver County player.
Pitt football recruit Marzett Geter registered 19 points and five steals for Sto-Rox (2-0, 8-1), which blew out Chartiers-Houston 75-41. The Vikings now have sole possession of first in Section 6, and once again look like a challenger in Class AA. Meanwhile, in Class A, Temple recruit Devontae Watson, who has a chance for an astonishing 1,000 career points, 1,000 career rebounds, and 1,000 career blocks, contributed 19, 15, and 14, respectively, en route to a 67-46 rout of OLSH by Lincoln Park.
Speaking of the Leopards (2-0, 8-2), who are tied with Cornell for first place in Section 1 with that win, don’t overlook the play of Ryan Skorvanko, who led them with 29 on Tuesday night, and is having a great sophomore season.
Lincoln Park and Cornell meet for the first time this season in Coraopolis Friday.
Keep reading the “Mr. High School Sports” blog for more WPIAL basketball coverage.
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)