USC knocks off Bethel Park, 63-50
Upper St. Clair played a nearly flawless game and knocked off previously undefeated Bethel Park, 63-50, in Section 4-AAAA boys’ basketball action on Tuesday, Jan. 22.
With the victory, the Panthers moved into a tie for first place in the division with the Hawks. Both are 7-1 in section. BP is 14-2 overall while USC is 12-3 overall.
Defensively, the Panthers shutdown BP’s inside attack, especially Wyatt Hagerty. Saddled with three fouls with 3:58 to play in the third quarter, the 6-11 senior rode the bench throughout the final frame. Shadowed by John Duffy, Will Ross and J.J. Conn throughout the contest, they held Hagerty to two points. The USC defense also silenced 6-5 forward Ken Gilmore, limiting him to one field goal and two free throws.
“Defense was very important in this game and we were very impressive,” said USC floor boss Danny Holzer. “Duffy, Ross and Conn battled and that made the difference in not allowing Bethel to go inside to their bigs.
“Once we take them out of that game plan, that evens the score for us. We can play our regular guys against their regular guys. Our great defense and perimeter play were the difference. Once we established the lead, Ben had to go small.”
From the get-go, USC established the advantage. The 1-2 punch of Jordan Grabowski and Conn as well as sharp shooting from beyond the arc and at the line, propelled the Panthers to victory.
Grabowski scored USC’s first 11 points and staked the Panthers to a 13-5 advantage. Grabowski finished with 15 points.
Conn led all scorers with 22. He connected on all 10 of his free throws, six in the fourth quarter, and he buried a pair of 3-pointers in the middle frames as USC stretched its lead to 27-21 at halftime and 39-28 after three quarters.
Joel Klein buried a pair of 3-pointers that gave USC leads of 46-37 and 55-44 in the final frame. He finished with eight markers.
“Grabowski is such a gutsy, tough player. He wants to score,” said Holzer. “Conn does a great job inside and outside. He creates great chances to score for us. And, Joel can shoot. Those were some critical 3-pointers he scored.”
Crucial was USC’s performance from the charity stripe. The Panthers knocked down 17 of 19 free throws. They made 12 of 13 in the fourth quarter, including a six-for-six showing by Connor Gallagher.
“I’m really proud of Connor,” Holzer said. “He came up big for us.”
For the Hawks, their smallest player, Joe Mascaro, came up biggest. The 5-8 sophomore fired in 18 points. His bucket pulled BP to within six points, 43-37, with 4:14 to play. He knocked down two of BP’s 3-pointers in the contest.
A pair of threes by Bobby Huntington tied the game, 13-13, before USC pulled away. Thomas Steve drained a 3-pointer to give the Panthers the lead, 27-21, that they would never relinquish.
“Credit USC,” said BP skipper Ben O’Connor. “They played better than we did. They played tougher and harder than us. They took advantage of our mistakes and they hit their threes, knocked down their free throws and played great defense. They are a team playing with confidence.”
While tied now for the section lead, Holzer would not say his Panthers have the edge heading into the home stretch. USC visit Canon-McMillan Jan. 25 then hosts Baldwin and Peters Township next week. They finish section action on the road at Moon on Feb. 5 before welcoming Mt. Lebanon on Feb. 8.
Of the BP win Holzer said that it was “huge” but emphasized, “this thing has a long way to go. There are a lot of tough games down the road but we are only worried about Canon-Mac.
“Of course, I like the position that we are in but at the same time we know that we can beat everybody and we also can lose to anyone. That’s how strong this section is. We’ll take them one at a time and maybe things will work out.”
Meanwhile, the Hawks hope to work out some of the kinks that have seen them go down to the wire with many of their opponents. They visit Moon on Friday. In between a visit to Mt. Lebanon on Feb. 1, they entertain Peters Township (Jan. 29) and Trinity (Feb. 5), two teams they needed overtime to beat in their first encounters. BP closes at Baldwin on Feb. 8.
“We have to regroup and prepare for Moon. We have to refocus,” O’Connor said. “We don’t have time to feel sorry for ourselves. I think we’re grounded now and we know we have a lot of big basketball games ahead of us.”