Burrell offense ignites in win over Apollo-Ridge

Friday, January 26, 2018 | 12:12 AM

Burrell's defense carried the load during much of the first half of the season, but the Bucs offense had its day Thursday.

Logan Bitar scored a career-high 26 points, and Donovan Russell added 20 points and 10 rebounds to lead Burrell to a 60-50 victory over visiting Apollo-Ridge in a key Section 3-3A game.

The Bucs (6-10, 3-2) overcame a slow first quarter to post their most points since Dec. 11 against Leechburg and move into a second-place tie with East Allegheny.

“The game's a lot different when shots are going in,” Burrell coach Shawn Bennis said. “We've been struggling to put the ball in the hoop lately, but the second quarter we started playing more confident, sharing the basketball, making the extra pass and knocking down the shot.”

The offensive struggles for much of the season — even with Thursday's output, Burrell is averaging fewer than 50 points — meant the Bucs often found themselves in close contests.

That was the case again against Apollo-Ridge, but the Bucs put away the game with foul shooting late, hitting 21 of their 29 attempts from the free-throw line.

Burrell snapped a two-game section losing streak.

“It all comes down to sharing the ball, trusting each other and taking the great shot versus the good shot,” Bennis said. “We started to do that today a little bit.”

Apollo-Ridge, which starts three freshmen, led by as many as eight points during the first half, but the game turned with a 14-2 Burrell run that closed the first half. Russell scored six points during the stretch, and Bitar had five, including a 3-pointer that gave Burrell the lead for good. The Bucs led 24-19 at halftime.

“In the second quarter, it was tough,” Apollo-Ridge coach Damon Andring said. “They switched their defenses up on us a little bit, and we couldn't respond. I had a couple guys in foul trouble, and that hurt us.”

Bitar and Russell did much of the offensive damage for Burrell, with Bitar's drives to the basket and outside shooting adding to Russell's work underneath for an effective combination.

Although Apollo-Ridge (5-9, 1-4) kept cutting into Burrell's lead in the fourth quarter, the Vikings couldn't get quite close enough.

A Keighton Reese 3-pointer trimmed Apollo-Ridge's deficit to six points with less than four minutes remaining, but Russell responded with a three-point play the old-fashioned way.

Burrell led by as many as seven points the rest of the way as Bitar shot 9 of 10 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter.

“Those two are our scorers,” Bennis said. “Other guys can get hot here or there or make big buckets.”

Kyle Fitzroy led Apollo-Ridge with 18 points despite facing constant double and triple teams. Reese added 12 points.

Klay Fitzroy, Kyle Fitzroy and Bobby Mangan fouled out in the fourth quarter.

“Kyle's my horse,” Andring said. “He's a warrior, and he'll go to battle for us anytime, anywhere. He always ends the game beet-red, bruises and scratches all over him. He takes a beating down there.

“My freshmen, we're learning slowly every day that we've got to work together as a team and work for our teammates to get open shots. It'll come.”

Bennis said the win was “critical” as Burrell faces a stretch of four section games in the next eight days, beginning Friday at South Allegheny.

“We're going to hopefully go into South Allegheny, work our tails off and hopefully get out of there with a win,” Bennis said.

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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