Clutch free-throw shooting leads Jeannette past Cambridge Springs in PIAA Class 2A second round

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Wednesday, March 14, 2018 | 10:15 PM


FARRELL — Any concern Jeannette had about Cambridge Springs' size proved groundless.

Making free throws and dealing with a late lead were much more critical worries for the Jayhawks, who held off Cambridge Springs, 62-60, on Wednesday night in a PIAA Class 2A second-round game at Farrell's E.J. McCluskey Gymnasium.

Playing with poise late, Jeannette (21-4) secured its first trip to the state quarterfinals since 2008 when the Jayhawks won their only state basketball title.

“We might have gotten too comfortable (with the lead),” said Jeannette senior guard Tre Cunningham, who scored a team-high 16 points. “We had to regroup and play as a team. This means a lot to us because it's been a while since Jeannette made the quarterfinals.”

Cambridge Springs (21-6), whose opening-round win over Leechburg was its first in the state playoffs since 1998, nearly came back with a strong second half.

Senior forward Turner Kurt led all scorers with 26 points and senior guard Noah Reisenauer had 23, 13 in the second half.

Jeannette made 20 of 28 free throws — 10 of 17 in the fourth — after shooting 13 of 29 in the first round against Purchase Line.

“You want to win in the playoffs, you have to make free throws,” Jeannette coach Adrian Batts said. “They tried to make us a play a half-court game, but our pressure got to them. I don't think they see pressure like that much. We wanted to make them play fast.”

Senior guard Robert Kennedy added 13 points, junior Marcus Barnes had eight, and junior Anthony Johnson and sophomore Jackson Pruitt, seven each.

Now the Jayhawks will face defending PIAA champion Sewickley Academy (23-4) in Saturday's quarterfinals at a time and site to be determined.

Jeannette lost to Sewickley Academy, 80-51, in last year's WPIAL quarterfinals, and fell to the Panthers, 69-68, two years ago in the WPIAL Class A semifinals.

Jeannette took a 32-23 lead into halftime, using pressure defense to force turnovers.

Cambridge Springs' senior twin towers, Kurt and Reese Aiken — both 6-foot-8 — were mostly successful in clogging up the lane, but Jeannette shared the ball well like it had in the first-round win over Purchase Line.

That patience allowed for backdoor cuts and some easy layups.

Only three players scored in the first half for Cambridge Springs, with Kurt netting 11 and Reisenhauer 10.

Reisenhauer's 3 beat the first-quarter buzzer to tie it at 14-14.

A 12-2 run by Jeannette, including a corner 3-pointer by Pruitt, upped the lead to 28-18.

Kurt scored consecutive hoops, the second on a soft lob inside, to cut it to 28-22.

Johnson picked up two fouls in the opening 44 seconds and sat most of the first half for Jeannette with three personals.

He also was hit with a technical foul with 5:57 left in the third for saying something to an official.

“Anthony is just so emotional; he's not a bad kid,” Batts said. “He helped us close out the game and played under control when he came back in.”

Cambridge Springs used the momentum to cut a 10-point deficit to four (35-31).

Cunningham delivered a one-handed slam on a breakaway, but the Blue Devils rallied to tie it 44-44 heading to the fourth as Kurt scored 11 points and the his team shot over 60 percent from the field in the quarter.

“In the end, they made more shots than we did. I'm very proud of my guys,” Cambridge Springs coach Kevin Kurt said. “It's been a great year. I couldn't ask for a better team to coach.”

Barnes sparked the Jayhawks early in the fourth with an and-1 that made it 53-46 with 5:50 to play.

Reisenauer answered with his own and-1 to close the gap to 53-49.

Johnson, playing with four fouls, made four free throws late to help Jeannette pull ahead 59-51, and Cunningham made a key steal with a minute left.

Cambridge Springs scored five points in the final 9.2 seconds with Reisenauer banking in a 3 at the final horn.

Julian Batts, fresh off his appearance in the NCAA play-in round with LIU-Brooklyn, rode on the team bus with Jeannette.

His father, Adrian, went to Dayton Tuesday to watch him play.

“I feel like I'm still in a car right now,” Adrian said.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BillBeckner.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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