Defending WPIAL champion Nazareth Prep fights back to edge Clairton boys

Saturday, February 15, 2020 | 6:09 PM

Defending WPIAL boys Class A champion Nazareth Prep trailed by as many as 12 points in the third quarter, then fought back to take a late lead and held on to defeat Clairton, 53-52, in a first-round playoff game Saturday at Thomas Jefferson.

The Saints (16-7) scored the game’s final three points when senior Jabriel Johnson scored off a rebound to tie the game, 52-52, with just over a minute left, then senior Jaden Gales hit one of two free throws with a half-minute left to put No. 5 Nazareth Prep up for good.

“My hat goes off to Clairton,” Nazareth Prep coach Nehemiah Brazil II said. “Those guys battled and gave us all we could handle. Fortunately, our guys were able to hang in there and fight back and got the win.”

No. 12 Clairton (13-10) had one more chance after a timeout with 9 seconds remaining, but senior Kenlein Ogletree’s shot in traffic from the elbow hit off the back of the rim and bounced away as time expired.

“Ogletree’s shot was not what we drew up,” Clairton coach Matt Geletko said.

Nazareth Prep jumped out early on Clairton with an aggressive defense that stymied the Bears into forced shots and errant passes as the Saints led 16-10 after one.

Clairton settled down and dominated the second quarter, as its pressure defense was turned into instant offense. The Bears outscored Nazareth Prep 23-9 in the frame to take a 10-point lead into the locker room.

“Our message to our guys was they played hungrier than us, especially in the second quarter” Brazil said. “Firty-fifty balls, they were on it. Deflections, they were on it. Rotations, they were on it. We got caught up being spectators.”

The Saints came out in a half-court trap that rattled the Bears and slowly, Clairton’s 12-point lead started to melt away with the heat of the Saints defense.

“They forced us to the sidelines and we couldn’t get the ball to the middle,” Geletko said.

Another big factor in the Nazareth Prep comeback was the play of 6-foot-6 senior Jabriel Johnson. He was dominant on the glass, a force underneath on defense, and when he got the ball on the blocks, was unstoppable as he scored 12 of his team-high 16 points in the second half.

“He’s our anchor,” Brazil said. “Sometimes he wants to do well so bad that it works against him. But when he’s locked in and he’s comfortable and he’s focused, he really helps us.”

Neither team did well from the free-throw line.

Nazareth Prep was 9 of 23 from the charity stripe, including a missed 1-and-1 by seniors William Taylor and Nehemiah Brazil III in the game’s final minute.

Clairton was 8 of 14 from the free-throw line, a tough stat to swallow in a one-point season ending loss.

Despite the last-second missed shot, Ogletree had a game-high 20 points for the Bears while senior Wayne Wade III and junior Don Napper had 10 points each.

Taylor added 15 points for the Saints, who will now face No. 13 Eden Christian for the third time this season after the Warriors upset Greensburg Central Catholic.

Nazareth Prep and Eden Christian are two of five teams from Section 1 still alive headed into the Class A quarterfinals.

“Yeah, it’s a tough section,” Brazil said. “Last year, we ended up with the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 seeds going into the playoffs. It is definitely a tough section and it prepares you for moments like this.”

Click to watch the archive of the Nazareth Prep vs. Clairton game on HSSN.

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