Monessen’s remarkable rally in the final minutes of its second-round PIAA boys basketball playoff victory over Bishop Carroll on Tuesday night will be best remembered for several offensive plays by the Greyhounds.
Freshman Devin Whitlock’s drive down the middle of the lane for the winning basket with 13 seconds left and Dishon Howell’s clutch free throws 40 seconds earlier were crucial moments in the 63-62 win in the Class A second-round battle at Greensburg Salem.
Monessen’s swarming defense in the fourth period may have been overshadowed but it was just as important to the victory that has propelled the Greyhounds into the state quarterfinals today against WPIAL champion Nazareth Prep (21-3). Tipoff is 6 p.m. at Keystone Oaks High School.
Bishop Carroll, the District 6 runner-up, had solved Monessen’s defense enough to drill six three-pointers and build a 10-point lead twice during the first three periods, led by Tristan McDannell’s 20 points.
There would be no more three-pointers from the Huskies and no more points from McDannell at all over the final eight minutes.
“They did a great job offensively,” Monessen coach Dan Bosnic said in assessing Bishop Carroll. “They attacked us off the dribble. Number 10 (McDannell) is a really good basketball player and a good finisher. And I thought they hurt us inside, especially early in the game. They did a good job of offensive rebounding and getting second opportunities.”
Nolan Burk, a 6-5 forward, in particular hurt the Greyhounds underneath with 19 points.
Rather than wilt, when the pressure was on and every possession mattered, Monessen’s defense stepped up for much of the fourth period.
“I think we kind of cleaned some of those things up in terms of they didn’t get those second opportunities late in the game and then I think our pressure really picked up there,” Bosnic said. “A guy like Antwon Tucker, who’s also a freshman, came in the game and really gave us a boost of energy there in the third quarter into the fourth quarter.”
Tucker gave the Greyhounds quality minutes playing for and at times with Whitlock, who battled through foul trouble throughout most of the game. Whitlock was tagged with his third foul late in the first half and was assessed his fourth foul early in the fourth quarter.
The poised underclassmen never drew that fifth foul, which was key to Monessen’s victory.
While the 5-7 Whitlock came up big at the end, the fourth quarter belonged to Howell. The 6-2 senior turned in one of the best all-around clutch performances in recent memory for a team that needed to rally from nine-points down in the final six minutes to keep its season alive.
Howell not only scored nine points, but he blocked two shots, came up with a key steal, made important plays on the boards and with his passing, and played smothering defense.
Howell saved his biggest play for the final minute as his steal and drive to the basket resulted in a foul that put him at the free-throw line with his team down one point and 53.6 seconds showing on the clock.
He made them both.
Howell sparkled despite playing with a wrist injury that Bosnic felt might keep him on the sidelines for the PIAA tournament. Howell shrugged it off.
“It hurts a little bit whenever I’m done playing,” he said, “but whenever I’m in the game I can’t even feel it.
“I’m just happy for my team, and we’re coming at whoever we have next with the same energy.”
That would be Nazareth Prep. The Saints have defeated Johsonburg, the fourth-seeded team out of District 9, 50-46, and District 5 champion Shade, 67-61, to reach the PIAA elite eight.
They Greyhounds ran away from District 10 champion Jamestown, 75-54, before upending Bishop Carroll.
Monessen’s starting lineup against the Huskies consisted of Whitlock, who scored a game-high 23 points, 6-3 junior forward Marquell Smith, Dishon Howell, 6-4 senior forward Elijahwa Payne and 6-2 senior guard Darnel Howell, who tallied 12 points.
DaWayne Howell, a 6-2 junior forward, as well as 5-3 guard Tucker, 6-2 junior forward Taylon Lowe, 5-8 junior guard Jalen Brice and 5-10 junior guard Dylan Bradshaw have also contributed quality minutes in the state tournament for Bosnic’s team.
The Greyhounds will have to contend with Saints 6-6 center Jabriel Johnson who scored 10 points against Shade. Nazareth Prep also received 18 points from 6-0 guard Hassan Ismaeli, 14 from 6-3 senior forward Tre Harvey and 12 from 6-1 junior forward William Taylor. Freshman 6-2 forward Jaden Gales hit a key 3-pointer in the Saints’ win.
That the Greyhounds, who only had one returning starter, have blossomed into a team that will be playing for a spot in the PIAA final four doesn’t surprise Bosnic.
“I knew going in how tough these kids were just from watching them,” said Bosnic. “Coming in and experiencing it and working with them every day, their competitiveness, their toughness, their willingness to overcome obstacles throughout the course of a game, it says a lot about our kids at Monessen.
“They’ll do anything, they’re so ultra-competitive, to win a basketball game.”