Devin Whitlock, freshmen put on a show as Belle Vernon puts away Yough

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Tuesday, January 26, 2021 | 11:12 PM


Devin Whitlock said Belle Vernon is a second-half team.

That might be the case from the perspective of the team’s junior point guard, but Yough might argue that the Leopards are a second-quarter team.

At least they were on Tuesday night in Herminie.

After Yough came out poised to challenge the fifth-ranked Leopards, even taking a one-point lead after the first quarter, Belle Vernon ratcheted things up in the second, scoring 30 points on the way to an 87-71 victory in Section 3-4A.

Whitlock had 10 of his game-high 24 points in the second stanza as Belle Vernon (5-1, 4-0) posted its fifth straight win, methodically peeling away from the Cougars, who went basket for basket with the Leopards early before fading.

Whitlock added nine steals and nine assists as Belle Vernon applied constant pressure to force turnovers and create transition baskets.

“I think we started off slow, but we got into the flow of the game,” Whitlock said. “We’re a second-half team. We start turning it up. Everyone started to come together, and we started hitting shots.”

Whitlock wasn’t the only Belle Vernon player with a double-double.

Promising freshman forward Quinton Martin, a load already at 6-foot-3, added 14 points and 15 rebounds, while junior guard Daniel Gordon had 14 points and 10 rebounds to go with eight steals.

Martin learned after the game that he’d been named to MaxPreps’ All-America Freshman football team.

“Quinton Martin is a big part of this basketball team,” said Whitlock, a highly-regarded playmaker in his own right on the football field. “Without him, we couldn’t do a lot of things. He gets to step in and play so big. We’re blessed with the opportunity to have him.”

Belle Vernon loves to push the tempo. It’s not so much a recipe as it is a method for the Leopards, the returning WPIAL Class 4A runner-up.

“They like to get up and down, and that was good for us tonight,” Belle Vernon coach Joe Salvino said. “I like that we scored (a season-high) 87, but we gave up 71. I wasn’t happy with our defense. We have to improve there.”

Yough (2-5, 1-4) ended the first quarter on a high note as junior guard Christian Park hit a 3-pointer and freshman Terek Crosby went in for a one-handed dunk off a steal to give the Cougars a 17-16 lead.

Park scored eight in the opening eight minutes.

But Belle Vernon quickly brought the sparse home crowd down to earth. Some nifty passing from Whitlock and junior Tyler Kovatch on feeds into the lane enhanced the pull-ahead surge.

The Leopards opened the second quarter with a 19-8 run to build a double-digit advantage at 35-23. Gordon scored off a drive and Whitlock made a floater in the lane.

Martin scored inside then offered a dunk of his own to push the margin to 14. Senior Gamal Marballie connected on a 3 for Yough to make it 39-28, but Whitlock made a 3 to answer one from freshman Zander Aird and give the Leopards a 46-33 lead at the half.

A 9-2 spurt out of the break pushed the margin to 20 (55-35) and Yough could only cut it to 17 the rest of the way.

Belle Vernon scored 54 points across the second and third quarters.

Marballie finished with 21 points, 10 in the fourth, while Crosby had 16 and Park 13.

Both teams had to contend with foul trouble with the constant up-and-down pace and numerous players attacking the rim. Yough was in the bonus in the first quarter.

“We tried to get back in transition, but we lost them a few times,” Yough assistant coach Will “Boo” Sherbondy said. “We got in some foul trouble, which hurt us. We didn’t rebound well as a team.”

Yough head coach Jim Nesser missed the game for personal reasons but is expected to be back for Friday’s game at South Park.

Yough, which had eight 3-pointers, had won two of its last three games, narrowly losing to Uniontown in another recent track meet, 66-61.

The Cougars seemed to slow down as Belle Vernon kept turning up the pressure.

“I think our guys were mentally and physically drained a little bit,” Sherbondy said.

The play of Crosby and Martin showed the future of both programs have bright spots. Yough also starts 6-5 Austin Matthews, another ninth grader. There was young athleticism permeating from both sides.

“There were a lot of nice athletes out there for sure,” Salvino said.

Juniors Joe Klancher and Tyler Kovatch each scored nine for Belle Vernon. Aird had nine for Yough on three 3s.

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

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