Grabowski gives USC narrow win over Norwin, 57-56, in playoffs
One person knew that Upper St. Clair would defeat Norwin by the narrowest of margins in a first-round WPIAL Quad-A boys’ basketball playoff game on Feb. 16 at Gateway High School…Jordan Grabowski.
“Some of the players, I won’t say who, thought when I got the ball we might lose,” said the senior guard.
But, with 2.4 seconds to play, Grabowski made believers out of all the Panthers. With aplomb, he buried a 3-pointer, touching nothing but net, to sink the Knights, 57-56.
“Jordan did not blink,” said USC floor boss Danny Holzer. “He’s very composed and confident.
“Jordan is such a tough, hard-nosed kid,” Holzer continued. “He stepped up. He wanted the ball in his hands, whether it was to make the play or to pass it to somebody who would make the hoop. He just refuses to lose.”
A team captain with Pete Coughlin, Grabowski willed a win because of his teammates, six of whom will graduate this June.
“I’m a senior,” Grabowski said proudly. “I didn’t want to let the team down. Once I got it, I knew that I was going to shoot it.
“Really though,” he added of the stunning finish, “I’m speechless.”
Speechless were the fans as the Knights appeared poised to knock off the No. 4 seed in the tournament. Norwin entered the fray with a 13-9 record while USC won the Section 4 crown and now sports a 20-3 record.
By using their height advantage and bulk, the Knights coasted to a 15-6 first-frame lead.
“So many things were going against us,” said Holzer. “They were beating us off the dribble. We got into foul trouble. We couldn’t get any rebounds because they were so physical.
“Give Norwin credit,” Holzer added. “They were a real good team. They were big and athletic and they came to play.”
Once they realized they were in for a battle, the Panthers played to win. Thanks to the 3-point shot, USC vaulted back into the fray.
The Panthers knocked down 13 treys, nine in the first half and seven in a 26-point second stanza. Joel Klein finished with a game-high 24 points, all on eight shots from beyond the arc. Klein buried four in the second quarter while Conor Gallagher supplied two, too, as USC stormed to a 32-30 advantage by halftime. Gallagher finished with eight points off the bench.
“Joel is a tremendous shooter and he kept us in the game,” said Holzer. “And, don’t forget about Conor Gallagher’s two 3s in that quarter. He and Joel kept us around in the first half.”
The play of Grabowski and Coughlin on defense as well as a 3-pointer by J.J. Conn, who totaled eight points, enabled USC to stay even with the Knights, 42-42, through three periods. In fact, Grabowski and Couglin combined for a steal and a fast-break lay-up resulted affording the Panthers their biggest lead, 34-30, to start the second half.
“Jordan and Pete are our emotional leaders. When things weren’t going well, those two got us up. They weren’t going to let us lose this game. They stayed up the whole game. Kept it positive.
“We win,” continued Holzer, “because of what Coughlin does on defense. Those two refused to lose. They willed us to win.”
Though saddled with a defensive shadow throughout the second half, Klein’s 3-point field goal gave USC a 47-44 lead with 5:42 to play. He sank another long-range shot at 3:26 to pull the Panthers back into the contest, trailing by one, 51-50.
USC did take a brief lead, 52-51, when Coughlin scored a bucket underneath with 1:53 to play but the Knights took advantage of being in the bonus since the end of the third quarter. Norwin converted 15 free throws in the game and eight in the final frame. When Coughlin fouled out with 10.6 seconds to play, Matt Stewart appeared to seal the victory by sinking one of two free throws, giving the Knights a 56-54 lead.
A Wheeling recruit, Stewart finished with a team-high 22 points, 19 of which he registered in the first half. Zach Bryan and Steve Socrates finished in double digits for the Knights as well with 14 and 10 tallies.
Stewart’s miss set the stage for Grabowski. His game-winning hoop launched the Panthers into the quarterfinals. On Saturday, Feb. 23, USC will face Seneca Valley, a 72-41 winner over Central Catholic.
In other first-round action, USC’s section rivals, Mt. Lebanon and Bethel Park, were both eliminated from the playoffs.
Lebo dropped a 53-48 decision to No. 3 seed Hampton while the Black Hawks lost in overtime to McKeesport, 58-54.