‘Other three’ key as Lincoln Park holds off Laurel Highlands in PIAA quarterfinals

Friday, March 17, 2023 | 11:46 PM

Lincoln Park’s Dontay Green left the locker room without a shoe on his right foot, the troublesome one that needed screws and plates to fix a lisfranc fracture several months ago.

What he did wear was a smile.

At times since his September surgery, Green wanted to quit the basketball team. However, his coach and teammates wouldn’t let him, and they insisted this state tournament win showed just how much they need him.

“He came and talked to me (weeks ago) and said, ‘Coach, I can’t do this anymore,’” Leopards coach Mike Bariski recalled. “Now look at tonight.”

Sophomore standout Meleek Thomas scored 23 points, but Green was one of three teammates also in double figures. Lincoln Park used that balanced scoring to defeat Laurel Highlands, 69-66, in a PIAA Class 4A quarterfinal that came down to the final second and drew a capacity crowd to Norwin’s gym.

Green and Brandin Cummings scored 13 points apiece, and DeAndre Moye added 11.

“We don’t win the game without Dontay Green,” said Bariski, who also credited role players Moye, Dorian McGhee and Rashan Russell for the win. “We had 30-some points from our ‘other three.’”

Russell went 3 for 4 from the foul line in the final 45 seconds.

Lincoln Park needed as many scorers as possible to counter Laurel Highlands’ tandem of Rodney Gallagher and Keondre DeShields. Gallagher scored 33 points and DeShields had 25, but the rest of the roster combined for only eight.

Yet with 14.6 seconds left, the outcome was still in doubt because of those two Mustangs stars. They’d rallied Laurel Highlands from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit and had a chance to tie on the final possession.

The team’s plan was for Gallagher or DeShields to take a tying 3-pointer, but they were swarmed defensively by Cummings and Thomas, who knocked the ball away from them and out of bounds with four-tenths of a second left.

“It was Rodney’s option to take it or give it to Keondre,” Laurel Highlands coach Rick Hauger said. “As it turned out, we just didn’t execute the way we had it planned.”

With a fraction of a second left, a hurried 3-pointer by Laurel Highlands’ Patrick Cavanaugh missed at the buzzer.

Lincoln Park (28-1) will face Uniontown (23-5) in the state semifinals Monday at a site and time to be determined. The Leopards will try to reach the finals for the first time since 2019.

Green will be there, if they do.

“There was a point in time where I wanted to quit,” said Green, a 6-foot-5 junior forward, who was injured playing football for Western Beaver. “I was hearing I might not get back in time. It’s going to change the way you feel. The way you play is not going to be the same. Teammates helped me, I kept working and kept God in my life. Now, I’m here.”

Lincoln Park’s supporting cast can be overshadowed by Thomas, the fourth-best sophomore nationally according to ESPN, and Cummings, a junior committed to Pitt. But Bariski pointed out that their three teammates on the floor aren’t merely taking up space.

“They’ve got two really good guys and we’ve got two really good guys, but I think the main difference is our role players,” Cummings said. “They really stepped up tonight. I’m proud of them.”

Said Thomas: “Our ‘other three’ stepped up more than the role players for the other team, which set the tone for us.”

The last lead change came on a 10-0 run by Lincoln Park late in the second quarter. The Leopards flipped a five-point deficit into a 26-21 lead when Thomas capped the run with a 3-pointer from the left corner.

Laurel Highlands (24-4) never reclaimed the lead but the Mustangs didn’t fade either. They trailed 28-25 at halftime and 48-44 after three quarters.

Lincoln Park’s lead peaked at 10 points in the fourth, before Gallagher and DeShields rallied back. Gallagher scored 17 points in the final quarter, including a 3-pointer at the 30-second mark and a 3-point play with 16 seconds left that cut Lincoln Park’s lead to 68-66.

“My guys didn’t quit,” Hauger said. “They did things pretty much strategically the way we wanted to.”

Laurel Highlands fouled Russell with 14.6 seconds left and the Lincoln Park sophomore made one of two free throws. His shot extend Lincoln Park’s lead to three, but gave Laurel Highlands the last shot to tie.

Bariski adjusted the Lincoln Park defense by pushing Cummings and Thomas to the guard spots in the 2-3 zone, a move that proved effective since neither Gallagher nor DeShields could attempt a tying 3.

This was a matchup many expected to see earlier this month in the WPIAL finals at Petersen Events Center. These teams were seeded first and second, but Laurel Highlands was upset in the semifinals.

They’d already met once this season in a late-December holiday tournament at CCBC. That, too, was a close game, and Lincoln Park won by four. Coincidentally, that win on Dec. 29 was Green’s first game back after surgery.

He said the foot still hurts at times, particularly when it gets stepped on. He limped off the court once in the third quarter Friday but came right back.

“I’m very happy I didn’t quit,” Green said. “We got WPIALs and now we’re ready for states.”

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

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