HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL: Indiana loses grasp on first place with loss
Ever the optimist, second-year Indiana High School boys’ basketball coach Greg Lezanic summed up the state of his program while he sat in a quiet, empty gym late Friday evening:
“You have big wins; you’re going to have big losses, too,” he said. “It’s just a fact of life.”
With a chance to all but lock up the WPIAL Section 1-AAA championship, Indiana fell to Mars, 55-53, in front of another capacity crowd at Fifth Street Gymnasium. It wasn’t so much what Indiana didn’t do Friday night, just that it never really got the break it needed in a heavyweight battle.
“You can’t pick out a play or a five-minute segment and say that’s what lost the game,” Lezanic said. “It was a great high school game. Last Friday we won; this Friday we lost. We obviously wanted to have a different outcome.”
Indiana (17-2, 8-2 section) must hope for Mars (11-6, 8-1) to lose at Knoch (14-4, 8-2) next Friday.
Barring upset losses by any of the three teams involved, that would create a three-way tie for the section title.
Of course, an Indiana victory over Mars would have given the Indians a clear track to an outright section title, their first since 1998.
Instead, they lost at home for the first time in more than a year, since Mars won, 58-47, on Jan. 8, 2013.
“They had a chance in their minds to cement their spot in the driver’s seat a little firmer, and sure, they’re taking it hard,” Lezanic said. “They’re all crushed. They fought hard. We did not lose the game because of heart, so that hurts. They have to understand that the sun will come up tomorrow and it was just a high school basketball game and everything will be fine.”
Indiana trailed most of the game, though not by much. The Indians’ biggest lead was four, 49-45, just after the two-minute mark of the fourth quarter.
Right after Jacob Zilinskas’ layin gave Indiana the four-point lead, Mars guard Owen Nearhoof nailed a 3-pointer, his fifth on a night on which he scored a game-high 20 points, cutting the Indiana lead to 1, 49-48.
Shortly after that, Mars’ Christian Schmitt nailed a 3, even with Kevin Jack’s hand squarely in his face, putting the Planets ahead by two, 51-49.
Mars didn’t give up the lead after that.
“There were some runs on both sides, and fortunately for us, we seemed to have the last little push,” Mars coach Rob Carmody said. “Had Indiana had the ball last, it could’ve been (Indiana winning). It’s just one of those things. You probably expected that coming in: Whoever has the ball last is probably going to have the opportunity to win, and that’s what you want.”
Indiana almost had the chance to tie the game, or even take the lead, at the end. Jack went to the free throw line for a one-and-and with 4.9 seconds left and made the first shot to pull within 55-53. After a timeout, he intentionally missed the next, but a jump ball was called after a crowd of players went after the rebound. After some initial confusion, it was determined the possession arrow was in Mars’ favor.
“We worked last night on a spin move to try to get Darrious (Carter) and Riley (Stapleton) into position,” Lezanic said. “And Darrious was right there, and the referee called a jump ball. He just as easily could’ve called a foul over the back, because Darrious had position. Then the whole place thinks we’ve got the possession arrow, and now the possession arrow’s pointing the wrong way. There were some times when it seemed like it just wasn’t meant to be. … How often do you see that play work at the NBA or collegiate level, let alone the high school level? And the guys did it. All you want in that situation is a chance, and the guys executed it perfectly, and we had a chance.”
Jack led Indiana with 16 points, and he dished out four assists. Carter had 12 points and five rebounds. Starting in place of senior Derek Stapleton, who was out with an injured hand, Zilinskas, a sophomore, had eight points and four rebounds.
“Of course we’re going to miss Derek, but Jake stepped in and played one heck of a basketball game,” Lezanic said. “I can’t fault anything that Jake did or Jake didn’t do.”
John Castello added 17 points for the Planets. His breakaway dunk silenced another Indiana run early in the fourth quarter.
Mars can claim the section title outright by beating Highlands, Kittanning and, of course, Knoch, to close out section play next week.
“Like I said to our guys: This is why you wake up on an August morning and go out and shoot free throws,” Carmody said. “You’re doing it because you want to play in a game like this. … When you walk in and it’s an atmosphere like this, you’ve got to be pretty excited about that. It was a really neat experience and obviously a big win for us.”
Indiana finishes its section schedule at Freeport on Tuesday and at home against Kittanning on Friday. It likely must win those games for a shot at a share of the section title. An outright championship is still possible if Mars falls to one of the lesser-lights next week.
“Not one goal that we set early in the year has yet been taken away from us yet,” Lezanic said. “That’s just the way I look at things. OK, we missed some opportunities, but all our goals are still ahead of us. One of our goals was to win the section, but there are much bigger fish to fry.”