Canon-McMillan boys basketball head coach Rick Bell isn’t concerned about giving Big Macs fans gray hairs from playing close games.
“I’ve already got gray hair,” he said.
That’s exactly what Bell and the Big Macs did Tuesday night at Bethel Park.
Canon-Mac scored four points in the first quarter to fall behind by 11 points before trailing by 19 at halftime – a nearly insurmountable deficit to make up in one half of high school basketball.
If it wasn’t over at halftime, it should have been when the Big Macs were down 21 in the third quarter. And if it really wasn’t over then, it definitely should have been when the Black Hawks went up by 16 points with six minutes left in the game.
But it wasn’t over.
The Big Macs – on the backs of their two best players, Jason Fowlkes and Kenyon Lewis, and the help of a vaunted press defense – forced Bethel Park into mistake after mistake to go on a 21-4 run in the last six minutes to steal the Section 2-6A win, 58-57, and remain in first place.
“This group is making me look really smart,” Bell said. “Two years ago, when we were losing all these close games, no one wanted to talk to Coach Bell. Now we’re winning them all, and people want to talk to me again, and a lot of it is because of (Fowlkes and Lewis) and their teammates.”
Fowlkes said the win was a reflection of the team’s motto: “relentless.”
“We’re not giving up,” said Fowlkes, who scored 19 points in the game and 12 points in the fourth quarter. “We didn’t know exactly that we were going to win that game, but we weren’t going to give up. We were going to fight tooth and nail to come back and win this one.”
Lewis, who Bell and himself said wasn’t having the offensive season he wanted or expected, scored 17 points, with 10 in the fourth quarter, and the game-winning layup with a minute left.
“(Mental toughness) is just something we’ve been taught since Day 1, even when we were little growing up in Canon-Mac from Coach Bell,” Lewis said. “We chipped away and kept pushing.”
The game at Bethel Park started similarly to how the matchup between the two squads did when they played at Canon-McMillan earlier this month.
In that game, the Big Macs started slow, scoring only five points in the first quarter.
The difference last night, though, was Bethel Park’s offense didn’t slow until the fourth quarter, and Canon-Mac’s offense didn’t pick up until the second half. After the Black Hawks led 13-4 entering the second quarter, they extended the lead to 34-15 at halftime, as the Big Macs couldn’t keep up with the Bethel Park offense.
Fowlkes said since the team has come back from double-digits deficits before this season, they got complacent, allowing the Black Hawks to extend their lead.
“I think because of the way we played them last time, when they jumped out on us, we were still too loose,” Fowlkes said. “I think at that point we should have got right back in it at that point. We let the lead go up, and we let them keep the momentum.”
Two minutes into the fourth quarter, Bethel Park’s Alex Mullen, who led all scorers with 20 points, made a three-pointer to put the Black Hawks ahead by 16 points.
Canon-Mac then ramped up their press defense even more, trapping the Black Hawks at every opportunity with often success to force turnovers and fastbreak layups.
The most important shot of the night came from Tommy Samosky, a sophomore who scored 11 points. With about two minutes left in the game and the Big Macs down eight points, Samosky nailed a three-pointer to bring the game within two possessions.
Tommy Samosky with an unbelievably important shot. Makes a three and the Big Macs are down 5 with 2:12 left in the game. #WPIAL— Jacob Calvin Meyer (@jcalvinmeyer) January 31, 2018
“Tommy is a sophomore in age only,” Bell said. “He doesn’t play like a sophomore. Tommy plays like a senior...I have the utmost faith in the world in Tommy.”
A few possessions later, Fowlkes took an outlet pass and dunked it to put the Big Macs down one. Bethel Park turned the ball over again on its next possession, and Lewis made an acrobatic layup with a minute left to give the Big Macs their first lead of the game.
Bethel Park turnover. Kenyon Lewis with a layup. Canon-Mac with its first lead of the game. 58-57 with 1:08 left. They were down 21 at one point in the half and 16 in the quarter. #WPIAL pic.twitter.com/4mvS3JFo3h— Jacob Calvin Meyer (@jcalvinmeyer) January 31, 2018
“The thing about Kenyon is as a senior and a returning starter, when he struggles scoring, he doesn’t struggle at anything else,” Bell said. “He plays great defense, he wins all the hustle plays, all the 50-50 plays, and stays our best offensive rebounder.”
Bethel Park’s Justin Meis was fouled with about 10 seconds left in the game, but the senior guard missed both. Fowlkes then missed the front end of a one-and-one with about six seconds left, and the Black Hawks couldn’t get a shot off before the buzzer.
“We did everything we possibly could have to win that game,” Fowlkes said. “We never gave up. We knew if we wanted to win the game we were going to have to give it everything we had, and that’s what we did.”