CANONSBURG – With Canon-McMillan trailing 29-27 at halftime to visiting Bethel Park, Big Macs boys basketball head coach Rick Bell said something he wouldn’t normally say.
Bell, in his 30th season of coaching, told his team he was one win away from 400 in his career going into Friday night’s Section 2-6A game.
“I didn’t want it to come across as a self-promoting thing, but I told the kids when we came up at halftime to give them a little spark,” Bell said.
Bell doesn’t know if it worked, but it surely didn’t hurt, as Canon-Mac came back to beat the Black Hawks 58-54 to win their third straight game.
Bell said the best part about the feat is that he turned around two different programs, both at Peters Township, his first job, and now at Canon-Mac (2-1, 7-1).
“At two programs, Peters (Township) and here, when we took over the programs, neither were very good,” Bell said. “Peters was coming off two soccer state championships in the late 1980s, and I got the job when I was 22 as the youngest coach in the state, and everyone knows Canon-Mac is a wrestling school. So to do it at these two places, that I’m really proud of.”
Even more so than the wins, Bell said as he gets older he gets to see how his young players turned out as adults.
“One of the other things I’m really proud of is how many kids we’ve had in our program over the years who have gotten into education or gone into coaching or both,” he said. “Some have verbalized to me that they got into it because of their experience with us, and that’s a lot more cool than how many games you win.”
It was evident from the first possession of the game that the two teams couldn’t be more different philosophically.
Bethel Park (2-2, 6-5) played a burn offense that, at times, took up one to two minutes off the clock on singular possessions. Contrastingly, Canon-Mac likes to run, pass the ball a few times, get an layup or an open three-pointer as quickly as possible.
The system battle was leaning Bethel Park’s way in the first quarter, as the Black Hawks led 15-5 after the first quarter.
“If I sat back in a 2-3 zone and let them hold the ball, then I’m a moron. There were things that we did to speed the game up a little bit,” Bell said. “Bethel didn’t want to get into an up-and-down game. They were dictating the tempo, and we had to change it. We went to our 1-2-1 press to try and push them up tempo and then switched to our 1-3-1 half-court trap just to try to speed it up a little bit, and I think that helped.”
After the Big Macs found their offense in the second quarter, the momentum continued in the third quarter with junior Elliott Waller. The 6-3 guard scored 12 of the Big Macs’ 16 points in the quarter, giving the team a 43-41 lead with eight minutes to play.
“We’re one of those teams that anyone on any night can (take over), and tonight was my night,” Waller said. “We weren’t shooting well, so I decided that I needed to take more shots and be more aggressive.”
Bell has talked to Waller this season about being more aggressive, and he was glad to see Waller take his advice.
“Elliott is one of the smartest kids I’ve ever coached; his basketball IQ is off the charts,” Bell said. “He’s also an extremely unselfish kid. I’ve actually had to get on him this year to be more aggressive. He’s worked a lot on his body. He got a couple really big rebounds that I don’t think he gets a year ago.”
Ethan Beachy, who scored 11 points, hit a three-pointer and Jason Fowlkes, who scored 12 points, made two layups midway in the fourth quarter to give Canon-Mac a 10-point lead and seal the win.
Alex Mullen, Tommy DiRienzo and Justin Meis scored 13, 13 and 11 points, respectively, for Bethel Park.
Canon-McMillan takes on McGuffey today at 1 p.m. in the Chuckie Mahoney Classic at Burgettstown High School.
Bell knows that while McGuffey (9-1) is in Class AAAA, his team can’t downplay them.
“I don’t want them to think that they’re playing their grandma’s McGuffey. (Coach) Mike (Fatigante) has done a great job with that program, and tomorrow is going to be another war,” Bell said.