Sheldon Cox leads New Castle to WPIAL 1st-round win against Mt. Pleasant

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Wednesday, February 19, 2020 | 10:42 PM


If he could’ve changed anything, Mt. Pleasant coach Allan Bilinskyh would’ve picked a gym with tighter rims.

He figured that might’ve been his team’s best strategy to slow down New Castle’s shooters Wednesday night. Sheldon Cox scored 29 points and tied a school record with nine 3-pointers as the seventh-seeded Red Hurricanes defeated No. 10 Mt. Pleasant, 64-47, in a WPIAL Class 4A first-round game at North Allegheny.

Against a defense that mimics the Syracuse zone, New Castle went 14 for 35 from the arc. Michael Wells added 26 points with four 3s.

The Red Hurricanes made more 3s than 2s (nine).

“It wasn’t like they were hitting shots with a toe on the line,” Bilinsky said. “They were NBA-range shots — contested. We did our gameplan. Their two biggest guys did what they needed to win this game.”

New Castle also forced 19 turnovers, creating extra possessions that led to more 3-point shots. Cox made two 3s in a 17-second span in the third quarter, with a Mt. Pleasant turnover in between, to push a nine-point lead to 15.

Cox had eight 3s after halftime.

“Obviously, he got hot,” New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said. “Against that zone, you’re going to have to make some.”

New Castle (16-7) faces second-seeded Knoch (19-3) in the quarterfinals at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at North Allegheny. The Red Hurricanes hasn’t played a game in nine days, and Blundo thought his team was affected by that layoff.

“I think we knocked some of the rust off, hopefully,” he said.

Mt. Pleasant and New Castle were seeded relatively close in the WPIAL bracket, with just two teams between them. Recent history favored New Castle. The Red Hurricanes are three-time defending WPIAL Class 4A champions who’ve won six titles in the past eight seasons.

Mt. Pleasant (12-11) wanted its first playoff win since 2014.

“People have been telling me this isn’t New Castle (of recent years),” said Bilinsky, who disagreed. “They’re New Castle. They know how to win.”

Jake Johnson led Mt. Pleasant with 21 points, and Jonas King had 11. Mt. Pleasant held a size advantage with King, a 6-foot-5 junior, and 6-6 sophomore Luke Brandner, so New Castle decided that it couldn’t live inside.

“We like when teams play zone,” Cox said. “We like to shoot the ball a lot. We’re a pretty good 3-point shooting team. … We knew it was going to be hard to get buckets around the hoop.”

Mt. Pleasant led 6-5 early in the first quarter before New Castle upped the pressure and found its shooting touch. The Red Hurricanes forced 10 first-half turnovers, led 16-8 after the first quarter and 27-17 at halftime.

It took New Castle a little while to solve the zone before ending the first quarter with an 11-2 run.

“We had a feeling it would work that way because that zone is a little unique,” Blundo said. “The wings are wide, and they have a good ‘big’ in the middle. Our biggest guy is 6-3. We just had to feel it, smell the zone a little bit and find out where the gaps and holes were.”

Cox made four 3s in the third and four more in the fourth. New Castle led 46-30 after three. This was the second time Cox made nine in a game, tying a team record.

“All the games we lost, teams have hit nine, 10, 11, 12, 15 threes against us,” Bilinsky said. “We don’t play in a gym as nice as this with soft rims.”

With a double-digit lead in the closing minutes, Blundo told his team to stop shooting 3s. New Castle’s student section urged Cox to keep going, but the junior guard didn’t attempt any in the final 2 minutes.

Had Cox known he’d tied the school record, he would’ve been tempted to take another, he said. Blundo didn’t realize he’d tied the record either.

“I heard the student section screaming,” Cox said, “and I thought, ‘Should I shoot this or not?’”

Watch an archived broadcast of this game on Trib HSSN.

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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