Exquisite timing helps Shaler avenge loss to Woodland Hills

Wednesday, January 31, 2024 | 12:29 AM

“Exquisite” was the fancy word Brandon London’s teammates urged him to work into his postgame interview.

He’d already scored 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds Tuesday night, but the Shaler senior decided to deliver once more for his guys. London used the eloquent adjective to describe the rare 3-pointer he made to open the fourth quarter, a shot that pushed Shaler toward a 67-55 victory over Woodland Hills.

“That was definitely an exquisite situation to be in,” he said.

His teammates surely agreed.

The 6-foot-2 post player did much of his damage around the basket with 14 points in the paint and led a team-wide rebounding effort that dominated Woodland Hills on the glass. After halftime, the Wolverines were out-rebounded 18-3. The lack of second-chance points doomed any hopes they had for sweeping the season series from Shaler.

Fourth-ranked Shaler (17-2, 6-1) had lost 52-46 when the teams met Jan. 5 at Woodland Hills, but this time the Titans avenged their only section loss and stayed alone atop the Section 2-5A standings. Six 3-pointers bolstered Shaler’s offense, giving balance to a strong inside game.

Keegan Smetanka scored 17 points and Kaden Orga had 12.

“The difference between this time and the last time was we came out with a lot more energy,” London said. “Especially on the defensive end, and that led to us getting rebounds and making shots.”

Shaler led by just four points at halftime and only eight entering the fourth quarter. That changed when London opened the fourth with a 3-pointer and senior Joey Miller hit another less than a minute later.

The consecutive 3s gave Shaler a 58-44 lead with six minutes left. Smetanka added another 3-pointer a couple of minutes later to keep the lead at 14.

“The game we played last time was chasing them off the line and sitting in the paint on (London),” Woodland Hills coach Jared Zych said. “But there were times when our rotations weren’t where they needed to be, and those times they killed us. Their 3s were in clusters.”

Shaler had only six 3-pointers, but their timing was exquisite. They had back-to-back 3s late in the first quarter from Smetanka and Julian Vizzoca, and T.J. Belles opened the second quarter with another.

Sophomore guard Scoop Smith led Woodland Hills (7-11, 4-3) with 18 points, sophomore Lamar Williams had 13 and junior Amere Brown added 12. But the Wolverines usually got only one shot per possession, and Shaler rebounded the misses.

“We had no weak-side rebounders and settled for too many 3s with no rebounders at all,” Zych said. “And a lot of the 3s we had weren’t close (to the line).”

In the third quarter alone, Woodland Hills was out-rebounded 10-1. Shaler has no starter taller than 6-3, but the players have proven themselves as capable rebounders as a group.

“We’ve been winning the rebounding battles pretty much every night, so it’s something we expect,” Shaler coach Rob Niederberger said. “That’s key against a team like this, because they’ve got guys who are really athletic and really crash the boards.”

Woodland Hills’ tallest starter was Williams, a 6-8 forward who blocked seven of Shaler’s shots. London was listed 6 inches shorter than his counterpart, but two of his first three baskets were put-backs.

“The mindset is I’ve got to get into his chest,” said London, a St. Francis (Pa.) football recruit. “I know he’s taller than me. I’ve got to pump fake. If I get him into the air, that’s my best chance.”

London scored three consecutive layups in one stretch of the third quarter, doubling Shaler’s lead from six points to 12.

“We ask him to be a force every night against guys 3, 4 or 5 inches taller than him,” Niederberger said.

Shaler has a one-game lead in the section standings with three contests left, so an outright title is within its reach. Looking back now, Niederberger said the early January loss at Woodland Hills might be a benefit to his team in the long run.

The Titans were undefeated before that loss.

“I thought we needed humbled a little bit,” he said. “Sometimes, I think that’s good for you.”

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.

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