MT. LEBANON – When Rick Bell took the job coaching Canon-McMillan’s boys basketball program nearly two decades ago, he was told that he was taking the helm of perhaps one of the worst programs in the state.
Fast forward to 2019, the Big Macs are now one of the must-see attractions in local high school basketball with their spread-the-floor, three-point-centric offense and active zone defense. They are also one of the more successful programs as evidenced by their advancing to the WPIAL 6A semifinals this season and qualifying for the PIAA postseason.
On Saturday, the Big Macs gave their fans that packed the Mt. Lebanon High School gymnasium one more chance to see a show. Although Pittsburgh City League champion Allderdice brought the Big Macs’ season to a close with a 61-58 overtime win, there was little doubt that Canon-McMillan could produce a winner on the hardwood.
“To the kids, they may not realize it because it hurts so much, but we talked about it last week and asked them after they lost to Mt. Lebanon in the semis, if they were willing to feel this way one more time,” Bell said. “But right now, I’m so proud of where we are, to where we have come from. This was a real good team and a joy to coach this year.”
Canon-McMillan’s season ends with a 16-10 record while Allderdice (22-5) will advance to play in the second round Wednesday.
Ethan Beachy led the Big Macs with 20 points while Luke Palma chipped in with 12.
The Dragons were paced by 6-7 Dalen Dugger’s 27 points. He was joined in the double-figure scoring column by Bobby Clifford, who finished with 11.
It was Dugger who gave the Big Macs fits inside as he scored with ease in the paint, a fact that Bell said he was willing to live with.
“We watched them on film and knew we had to take their guards away,” Bell added. “They just went and dumped it into the big guy inside.”
But Canon-McMillan refused to yield as the Big Macs played to their strength on the perimeter. A Beachy three-pointer knotted the score at 42 in the beginning of the fourth quarter.
Beachy struck again when he drilled a three to give the Big Macs a 49-48 advantage with three minutes left in regulation. Beachy then set up Drew Engel for a layup that gave the Big Macs a 51-48 lead with 100 seconds remaining.
Dugger again got loose inside for a chip-in basket to slice the lead to one. Clifford then made one of two free throws to tie the score with less than 30 seconds remaining. Clifford could have ended the game in regulation, but his three-pointer missed at the buzzer.
“I’m absolutely exhausted,” longtime Allderdice coach Buddy Valinsky said. “That’s a well-coached team Canon-McMillan has. I told Rick Bell to please not call out our plays before the game because I knew how well-prepared they would be.”
The Dragons were able to win the game from the foul line in overtime as they made seven of 10 from the stripe. Beachy’s long three-point attempt fell short, as did Canon-McMillan’s attempt to advance in the state tourney.
The Big Macs did well early combating the Dragons’ size advantage. By using the three-pointer, Canon-McMillan battled Allderdice to a 16-16 draw at the end of the first quarter. Tom Samosky’s two triples along with three-pointers from Beachy and Engel were the catalysts for the Big Macs.
But Allderdice came alive in the second quarter as Tony Henderson came off the bench to make two three-pointers that keyed a 10-0 run that turned a 21-19 Canon-McMillan lead into a 29-21 Dragons advantage late in the half.
A Beachy three in front of the Allderdice student section cut the deficit to five at the half.