USC beats Big Macs in first of two section showdowns
Heading into back-to-back battles with Upper St. Clair, the Canon-McMillan boys’ basketball team found itself in an unprecedented position. The Big Macs were tied for first place in Section 4-AAAA with the Panthers. Both sported 6-2 section slates and 10-5 overall records.
Though the Big Macs dropped the first encounter, 56-47, they anticipate the rematch on Jan. 27 at their place while also embracing their new role.
“We are not the Snowball Dance game. The one where the announcer says the dance will be held after the game in the cafeteria,” said Rick Bell after his team’s hard-fought defeat on USC’s court Jan. 24. “We have an opportunity to redeem ourselves.
“We’ll take the Clint Hurdle approach. We’ll shower and wash it off,” he said of the loss.
The Big Macs, however, won’t rinse away the grit that has garnered them respect from opposing coaches.
“They are a formidable opponent,” said USC skipper Danny Holzer. “They battled. They played hard.
“We were in a desperate situation,” continued Holzer, whose Panthers were coming off a demoralizing defeat at Bethel Park, 72-48. “If we had lost this game at home, we would have been 6-3 with three road games at Canon-Mac, at Baldwin and at Peters Township coming up. And there’s a logjam between first and fifth place. Staying in first place was critical.”
Critical to USC’s initial success against the Big Macs was the play of the Panthers’ seniors.
Thomas Steve buried four, 3-point field goals to finish with a game-high 12 tallies. His long-range shot with under 3:45 to play ignited an 8-0 run and vaulted the Panthers into the lead for good. With 1:54 to play, USC lead, 51-41.
Connor Gallagher tossed in 11 points, eight in the decisive fourth quarter. The point guard connected on all six of his free throws, including four after Alex Hammers had pulled the Big Macs within five points, 52-47. Hammers buried a 3-point field goal with 1:21 to play.
JJ Conn exploded for 10, second-half points. His 3-point play with 1:03 to play in the third quarter not only were his first scores of the game but also snapped a 33-33 deadlock.
“We are so senior-oriented and focused,” said Holzer. “They understand the situation.”
Sam Bohn appeared to have the situation under control for the Big Macs. He led all scorers with 20 points. He scored 16 in the first half to keep Canon-Mac within three points, 26-23, at intermission.
“Sam is so heady. A smart, smart player,” said Bell. “He takes care of the ball. He’s a coach out there on the floor. I love him to death. I’m glad he is on my team.”
To keep pace with Bohn, USC needed four, 3-pointers in the first frame. Despite Bohn’s 11 markers, the Big Macs trailed, 16-15, after one frame. In addition to Gallagher and Steve, Andrew Wheeler had the hot hand with a trey in the first frame. His 5-point spree launched USC into the lead, 24-15, with 4:17 to go in the second stanza. Wheeler finished with eight points.
“Give Canon-McMillan and Coach (Rick) Bell credit,” Holzer said. “They are playing inspired basketball. If we did not play well in the second half, we would not have won.”