Deer Lakes boys defeat Neshannock in OT, advance to WPIAL Class 3A title game

By:
Monday, February 26, 2024 | 10:10 PM


The path wasn’t easy, but defending champion Deer Lakes is headed back to the WPIAL boys basketball finals after a second straight overtime win.

Nathaniel Moore made a game-tying layup with 2.9 seconds left in regulation, and No. 1 seed Deer Lakes ignored its earlier misses at the foul line to make 11 free throws in overtime to defeat No. 4 Neshannock, 84-73, in a WPIAL Class 3A semifinal Monday at Fox Chapel. The experience gained by winning the title a year ago has certainly paid off in this tournament in many ways.

“In every way,” Deer Lakes coach Albie Fletcher said. “These guys know what happens at the end of games, and they take that preparation seriously in practice. You’ve got to rep all kinds of scenarios — up a point, down a point, 10 seconds to go, 15 seconds to go.”

This time, the scenario saw Deer Lakes trailing by two with 8 seconds left in the fourth quarter after Neshannock’s L.J. Keith made the second of two free throws.

Deer Lakes sophomore Collin Rodgers — the overtime hero in the quarterfinals — drove down the court on the left side and passed to Moore in the lane. Moore was fouled on his way to the basket but still made a game-tying layup with 2.9 seconds left.

However, his free throw missed, and a put-back at the buzzer by Wayne Love also bounced off the rim sending the game to overtime tied 65-65.

Deer Lakes started OT with an 8-2 run that included a couple of baskets by Love and Moore but also two free throws each by Aiden Fletcher and Rodgers. After struggling at the foul line in the first four quarter, Deer Lakes made 11 of 15 attempts in overtime.

“It’s been our Achilles’ heel all year, but for some reason we decide in the last four minutes or so to make them,” Albie Fletcher said. “I told the guys, ‘You’re allowed to make free throws all game. You don’t have to wait until the end.’ I think that’s a testament to their desire to win and their play in big moments.”

Deer Lakes (20-4) advances to the WPIAL Class 3A final at 5 p.m. Friday at Petersen Events Center. Waiting there is section-rival Burrell, which reached The Pete by pulling off three straight playoff upsets as the No. 11 seed.

Deer Lakes won both regular-season matchups against Burrell, 65-43 and 51-48.

Reigning champion Deer Lakes capitalized on a size advantage over Neshannock to earn its return trip. Moore, a 6-foot-4 junior, and Love, a 6-3 senior, each scored 23 points. Their work in the paint led to a handful of putback baskets and a rebounding edge, but their efforts also contributed to three Neshannock players fouling out.

“They’re a well-coached team, and they knew they were going to be able to exploit some of our lack of size,” Neshannock coach John Corey said. “They did a good job getting the ball where it needed to be.”

Deer Lakes had four scorers in double figures. Rodgers added 12 points, and Billy Schaeffer had 11, all after halftime.

Neshannock sophomore David Kwiat scored a game-high 29 points despite facing a defensive shadow for much of regulation and all of overtime. Kwiat made five 3-pointers, including a last-second shot that sent the teams to halftime tied 30-30.

But Deer Lakes held Kwiat to four points in overtime.

“That was our strategy for the whole game,” Fletcher said of shadowing Kwiat. “But especially at the end of the game, if someone was going to beat us, don’t let it be No. 11.”

Neshannock (20-4) already has qualified for the state tournament and will play in a WPIAL third-place game Wednesday. Keith added 16 points Neshannock.

Neshannock overcome a 21-10 deficit in the first quarter and later escaped an eight-point hole early in the third, boosted by a bevy of 3-pointers. The team went 11 for 21 from beyond the arc.

Corey praised his players’ resilience but was second-guessing his decision not to call a timeout late in the fourth before the possession that led to Deer Lakes’ tying basket.

“My message (to my team) was simple: ‘We’re not playing Friday night because of me,’” Corey said. “That’s a coaching loss. Taking the two-point lead late in regulation, I needed to take a timeout and I didn’t. That’s going to hurt for a while.”

Deer Lakes survived in overtime in the quarterfinals as well, holding off an upset bid by Ellwood City. Rodgers made a last-second shot to win 39-38 in overtime.

But late-game heroics in the playoffs aren’t new for Deer Lakes. A year ago, then-senior Michael Butler made a 3-pointer with 4.7 seconds left to defeat Steel Valley, 65-63, in the WPIAL semifinals. That win took Deer Lakes to the WPIAL finals for the first time in team history.

Now, only a year later, the team is going back.

“It’s amazing,” said Fletcher, a second-year coach making his second finals appearance. “We did exit interviews at the end of last season, and every single person said: ‘We’re doing it again.’”

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.

Tags: ,

More High School Basketball

Belle Vernon hires former Shaler, Gateway coach to lead girls basketball program
20 years later, Roundball Classic continues to evolve
Steelers QB Russell Wilson to speak at Rising Stars underclassmen basketball practice
PIAA sets 2025-28 state championship sites for basketball, wrestling, swimming
Chartiers Valley ‘checked all of the boxes’ for new boys basketball coach Corey Dotchin