Central Catholic’s Debaba Tshiebwe follows brotherly advice, posts double-double to defeat Butler

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Wednesday, February 8, 2023 | 12:21 AM


Advice from an older brother can be valuable, especially when your brother is the top college basketball player in the country.

Just ask Central Catholic senior Debaba Tshiebwe, whose big brother Oscar is a star for Kentucky. The younger Tshiebwe, himself listed at 6-foot-7, says he has adopted some brotherly advice to become a dominant big man this winter in WPIAL basketball.

Tshiebwe had 16 points, 14 rebounds and a couple of powerful dunks Tuesday night as No. 2 Central Catholic dominated the glass in a 65-43 victory over No. 3 Butler, which was held to zero second-chance points.

In all, Butler had only three offensive rebounds, thanks in large part to Tshiebwe.

“My brother is teaching me how to go fight for rebounds and how to box out,” Tshiebwe said. “If you see they’re shooting, you’ve got to look for your man and box him. Then it’s very easy for me to get rebounds.”

At times, Tshiebwe made it look easy.

The win breaks a second-place tie in Section 1-6A. Central Catholic (12-8, 6-3) swept the season series from Butler (14-6, 5-4). Each team has one section game remaining.

Butler had a lead after the first quarter, but Central Catholic slowed the Tornado’s transition offense and surged ahead in the second with an 11-0 run. Dante DePante scored 14 first-half points for Central Catholic, but he sat out the entire second half after drawing two technical fouls.

The Vikings led 39-24 at half, a margin that grew to 50-31 after three quarters, despite playing without DePante.

“There were no second-chance points, and they had seven offensive boards in the first half,” Butler coach Matt Clement said. “They were able to impose their will on us. It was as simple as that.”

Braydon Littlejohn scored 21 points for Butler but played the second half in foul trouble.

For Central Catholic, this was a big bounce-back win after losing at home Friday to No. 1 New Castle.

“Our guys just had a chip on their shoulder from Friday night,” Central Catholic coach Brian Urso said. “That taste in our mouths after the New Castle game stuck with us. We were hungry at practice yesterday. We just couldn’t wait to face a different opponent again.”

What sets Central Catholic apart from the other Class 6A contenders is its size.

This is Tshiebwe’s second season at Central Catholic, after transferring last fall from a private school in Ohio. Originally from Congo, he was a key contributor last season, but has become a difference maker this winter.

He had 21 points and 16 rebounds in Friday’s loss.

“From last year to this year, the improvement he’s made is big,” Urso said. “He’s slowing things down. He’s working harder in practice. He’s having more fun. His comfort level with everybody is better, and that allows him to go play.”

Tshiebwe’s brother Oscar, who won a PIAA title at Kennedy Catholic, was the consensus college national player of the year last season. There’s always added attention on Debaba because of the tremendous success of Oscar.

“So many people ask him about Oscar, not about Debaba,” Urso said. “It’s unfortunate. He’s an outstanding young man. He’s going to have an outstanding future. All he keeps saying to everybody is, ‘I just want to be Debaba.’ When he can be Debaba like (tonight), we’ll take it.”

Central Catholic’s lead peaked at 59-34 in the fourth quarter on a Tshiebwe layup. He went 7 for 10 shooting from the field and made both free-throw attempts.

Tshiebwe said sometimes he feels a little nervous being known as Oscar’s little brother, but said he is working hard to succeed, both for himself and for his older brother.

“I am no machine,” he said, borrowing a line from his brother. “I am Debaba.”

Joining Tshiebwe in Central Catholic’s front court is 6-3 junior Cole Sullivan, a football standout who added offers this week from Pitt, Penn State and Oklahoma. He’s also an outstanding rebounder, helping the Vikings win that battle, 25-14.

“Our big guys have been consistent,” Urso said. “We know we’re strong, we’re athletic, we’re physical. If they get involved early, good things are going to happen for us.”

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.

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