Burrell boys come up short in another close game

Tuesday, January 2, 2018 | 11:52 PM

The Burrell boys basketball team was involved in a number of close games in December.

The Bucs lost three games by two points or less and won a couple of others, including a one-point triumph in their section opener against East Allegheny right before Christmas.

Burrell again went down to the wire Tuesday at home in a nonleague clash with former section rival Knoch, losing 43-41 despite a game-high 23 points from Logan Bitar.

“I told the guys to continue to believe in what we are doing and to continue to play hard and trust in each other,” Burrell coach Shawn Bennis said. “We need to share the ball throughout the game a little bit better, but it's all a part of the journey.”

Julian Sanks, who led Knoch with 15 points, including 10 in the second half, gave the Knights the lead with a jumper with 34 seconds left.

Burrell set up for the final shot and got the ball to Bitar, who dribbled into the paint and put up a 12-foot jumper. However, his shot was blocked by Knoch's Scotty Fraser as the buzzer sounded.

The Bucs are 3-8 overall with their 1-0 record intact in Section 3-3A play. They jump back into section action Friday at home against South Allegheny.

“We've played a pretty challenging nonconference schedule,” Bennis said. “Hopefully, all of these games and experiences will help us when we get back into section play.”

Burrell played at home for only the second time this year. It defeated Leechburg, 63-59, at home Dec. 11.

Knoch upped its record to 4-5 and won for the second time in three games after a four-game losing streak.

“As young as we are, we'll take any win, especially on the road and against a tough team like Burrell,” Knights coach Ron McNabb said.

“We got to see Burrell twice at the Highlands tournament and knew what we were up against. We did some uncharacteristic things in the game, but I liked our composure at the end. I think our youth is getting better and better, and the future is bright for us. This was a good win.”

Burrell survived several Knoch attempts to pull away, including one in the final couple of minutes. The Knights opened a 40-34 advantage with 1:49 left, but the Bucs got a pair of free throws from Bitar to close the gap to four.

Jake Okopal then sank two free throws with 1:24 remaining. After Jake Scheidt hit 1 of 2 from the line to put Knoch up 41-38, Okopal came up big again with a 3-pointer to tie the score with 55 seconds left.

Scheidt was a difference-maker for Knoch in the fourth quarter. Burrell sent him to the line five times, and he converted 9 of 10 foul shots. Scheidt finished with 11 points, all in the final eight minutes.

“We shoot a lot of foul shots in practice all the time, and they are just free buckets,” Scheidt said. “We've got to make those. It's clutch time at the end.”

Knoch went 17 for 18 from the line in a win over Blackhawk at the Highlands tournament and was 7 of 7 from the line the next night in a loss to Highlands.

The Knights hit 14 of their 18 foul shots Tuesday.

“We'll take that any time,” McNabb said. “Those clutch moments are helping us grow up real fast.”

Jared Schrecengost had 10 points and eight rebounds for Knock. He scored his team's final eight points of the first half as the Knights went into the break leading 20-17.

Neither team scored over the first three minutes of the third quarter, but Sanks hit a 3-pointer and added a jumper to extend Knoch's lead to 25-17 with 4:41 left.

The Knights built the lead to 27-17 before Burrell went on a 9-0 run to close the quarter. Bitar hit back-to-back baskets for the Bucs, and Jake Robertson added a 3-pointer and a jumper.

Anthony Bigler's rebound and layup in the opening minute of the fourth gave Burrell its first lead (28-27) since it held an 8-5 advantage with 4:02 left in the first quarter.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at mlove@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Mlove_Trib.

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