Clairton returns to playoffs with win over Jeannette

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Saturday, February 4, 2023 | 12:15 AM


A year after struggling to a 1-18 season, the Clairton boys basketball team is back in the WPIAL playoffs.

The Bears used a strong second-half effort to erase a seven-point halftime deficit and earn a 63-58 win over visiting Jeannette to clinch a postseason berth inside the Paulette Bradford Memorial Gymnasium on Friday night.

“It’s good to get back to the Clairton tradition because it was odd not to see a Clairton basketball team in the playoffs last year,” Clairton coach Rashawd Hatten said. “We knew we were going through the growing pains as a young team, and we went through some growing pains this year too, but we were able to get through those ups and downs and we were able to come away with a big win tonight.”

It was a special senior night for the Bears’ lone two veteran leaders in Devon Dean and Kaden Smith.

Dean poured in a game-high 20 points to lead the way for Clairton (10-11, 5-6), while Smith followed with an 18-point performance.

Advancing to the playoffs is even more special for the seniors considering they didn’t play much as juniors. Dean missed all of last season with an ACL injury and Smith missed a majority of the year with an injured ankle.

“This means a lot, not just for us, but for all of Clairton because we really turned it up for our city. It was the perfect way to end my senior season on this floor,” Dean said. “Making it into the postseason is huge for everybody and really boosts our confidence as a team.”

Dean’s play was instrumental in the third quarter, as the Bears trailed 34-27 at the half.

The teams traded buckets to begin the frame before Clairton marched out on a 15-3 run over the span of six-plus minutes.

Dean had nine of his points during the lengthy spree, which allowed the Bears to take a 44-39 lead with under a minute to go. Dean scored the final six points of the run.

“We’ve been hard on Kaden and Devon all year because we knew they had this type of potential,” Hatten said. “It was good to see them come here in their last home game and handle their business.”

Clairton ended up taking a 44-42 lead into the fourth quarter after Giovanni Merola, who led Jeannette (11-7, 5-5) with four 3-pointers and 19 points, was fouled on a 3-point attempt and hit all three foul shots.

Clairton struggled from the floor and the free-throw line in the opening three and a half minutes of the fourth.

The Bears were held without a field goal and were 3 for 7 from the charity stripe. Meanwhile, the Jayhawks rallied back on a bucket inside by Jalen Bass and a triple by Merola that tied the game at 47-47.

After a Clairton timeout with 4:35 on the clock, Smith began to take over.

He hit a corner 3 and went on to score seven points during a 10-3 run over the span of two and a half minutes. His surge helped give the Bears a 57-50 lead with under 2:30 to go.

“It was great to be able to put on a show for our city because they were riding with us the whole time,” Smith said. “My focus was to come out aggressive and crash the boards, so this definitely boosted my confidence a lot.”

Jeannette began to rally in the final two minutes, forcing turnovers on three straight Clairton possessions.

A bucket by Shane Mickens made it a five-point game and two free throws by Isaiah Mallich closed the gap to three at 57-54. Two more foul shots from Mickens made it a one-point game before Dean took care of business with a 2-for-2 showing from the line to push the lead back to three.

“You have to make free throws. If you make free throws, the hoop gets bigger for everybody and the confidence rises,” Dean said. “It’s all a part of being a leader.”

Jeannette had a chance to tie the game with 37.7 seconds left as Bass converted on a layup and was fouled on the shot. He missed the ensuing free throw and the Jayhawks still trailed 59-58.

Clairton scored four points in the final seconds, including two on foul shots from Dashawn Hines, to secure the win. Hines joined Dean and Smith in double figures with 16 points.

“This was all about being resilient. We have a young group and in the past, we’ve put our heads down in those situations,” Hatten said. “This time, they battled through the adversity, dug deep and did what they needed to do to come away with the win.”

Jeannette led 15-10 after one quarter before seeing that lead shrink a bit in the second.

The Bears started the frame on a 10-4 run highlighted by Dean, who scored his first six points of the night.

Jeannette countered with a 7-0 run of its own, but Clairton responded with five straight points from Smith and Hines to cut the lead to 26-25 with under three minutes to go.

In the final 2:26, Jeannette gained separation via an 8-2 run, as Mallich and Kymone Brown each hit 3-pointers to give the Jayhawks their seven-point advantage.

Mallich added 12 points for the Jayhawks, who had four players in double figures. Mickens and Bass each added 10.

Aside from the leadership of their two seniors, the Bears also benefited from their defensive intensity in the second half. They crashed the glass consistently and forced 11 turnovers in the final 16 minutes.

“They hit a couple of big shots to close out the half, and they got some second-chance points from us not rebounding like we should have,” Hatten said. “Our point of emphasis at halftime was to close out to their shooters and make them put the ball on the floor. It was great to see our guys follow through with that.”

Clairton closes out the regular season at Greensburg Central Catholic on Tuesday. Jeannette has a nonsection matchup with Deer Lakes on the schedule Saturday.

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