Laurel Highlands scores with 3.5 seconds left, stuns No. 1 Penn Hills in WPIAL quarterfinals

Friday, February 21, 2020 | 10:38 PM

Laurel Highlands coach Rick Hauger called for a timeout, but the crowd was still raucous from Penn Hills’ game-tying 3-pointer.

“Thank goodness they didn’t hear me,” Hauger said.

Laurel Highlands fought through the trap that had Hauger worried, and senior Keandre Cook banked in a game-winning runner with 3.5 seconds left to upset No. 1 seed Penn Hills, 62-60, in a WPIAL Class 5A quarterfinal at Norwin. Cook’s basket came less than 15 seconds after Penn Hills’ Eddie Daniels made a game-tying 3-pointer at the other end.

“I thought he was going to (call a timeout), but we just had the momentum, I guess,” Cook said. “We pushed the ball up and got a good shot off.”

Laurel Highlands used five passes to weave through Penn Hills’ 1-2-2 zone trap.

“Once we got it (across half court), then there was no thought of a timeout,” Hauger said. “They were spread out a little bit (on defense). We had to go.”

Now, No. 8 Laurel Highlands (15-8) is going somewhere it hasn’t gone in decades.

The Mustangs are one win away from reaching the WPIAL finals for the first time since 1972. They face No. 4 Thomas Jefferson in the semifinals Tuesday.

Measured against Laurel Highlands’ recent history, Hauger ranked Friday’s victory at the top. His next-best memory was when Laurel Highlands was seeded 15th and upset No. 2 Highlands in the 2007 first round, but “this here is probably a little bit above that,” Hauger said.

“That’s how good it feels.”

Hauger tried to call a timeout when star freshman Rodney Gallagher appeared trapped near midcourt with about 12 seconds left, but Gallagher escaped with a pass to Cook. The ball then went from Cook to Tyvaughn Long to Tim Smith and then back to Cook, who drove down the lane and scored the game-winner.

Gallagher led Laurel Highlands with 20 points, Long scored 18 and Cook had 11.

“I knew they were probably going to be on Rod because it’s Rod,” Cook said. “I saw an opportunity to drive and I took it strong. I hoped for a foul at least and banked it in.”

This was the second year in a row that Penn Hills (18-5) was highly seeded but failed to reach the finals. Indians coach Dan DeRose said his postgame message to his team was direct.

“You got out-hustled, you got out-worked, you didn’t box out, you didn’t play defense,” DeRose said. “Those are the reasons you won’t win. We’re a paper champion. That’s what we are.”

Wes Kropp led Penn Hills with 19 points. Daniels, Kyree Mitchell and Deondre Mitchell scored 10 points apiece.

Penn Hills will qualify for the PIAA playoffs if Laurel Highlands reaches the WPIAL finals.

This was the second time this season that Laurel Highlands defeated Penn Hills. The two Section 1 teams split their regular-season matchups with Laurel Highlands winning the Jan. 24 rematch 67-59.

“We knew we could compete,” Cook said.

The game was close throughout. The largest lead for either team was six points by Laurel Highlands in the fourth quarter, but for the most part it was a one-possession game.

Laurel Highlands led 11-10 after the first quarter, 29-28 at half and 42-39 after three. There were four lead changes and four ties in the second half.

A put-back basket by Long and a free throw from Gallagher gave Laurel Highlands its largest lead, 51-45 with less than 5 minutes left in the fourth. Long, a 6-foot-4 senior, had seven offensive rebounds.

Penn Hills answered with a 7-2 run, including a steal and layup by Kyree Mitchell to force a tie at 53. However, Laurel Highlands retook the lead on a layup by Nick Egnot and five points from Gallagher.

Trailing 60-55, Penn Hills forced the final tie with a driving layup by Eddie McKissick and Daniels’ 3-pointer with 18.1 seconds left. Penn Hills then deployed its trapping defense, hoping the zone would slow down Laurel Highlands’ ball handlers.

“You don’t want to go straight man (defense) because Gallagher is quick enough to take it coast to coast straight to the basket,” DeRose said. “We got the guys passing the ball a couple times and had them kind of scrambling around, but when Cook got it, I don’t know.

“I guess I’d have to see it on film.”

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

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