Leechburg boys pull away from Bishop Canevin after halftime

Thursday, February 14, 2019 | 1:30 AM

Leechburg boys basketball coach Corey Smith walked his team onto the floor after halftime, turned around, removed his charcoal gray sport coat and said, “I’m feeling it.”

Smith knew his Blue Devils were on fire. Backed by a stellar defensive performance and 17 points from junior Connor McDermott, No. 9 seed Leechburg pulled off a mild upset in the first round of the WPIAL Class A playoffs with a 59-40 win over No. 8 Bishop Canevin on Friday night at Fox Chapel.

“You’re not going to see any dunks with us, and you’re not going to see any flashy things, but you will see fundamental basketball,” said Smith. “You will see guys that are prepared, and you will see guys that will fight until the end and fight for each other, and that’s exactly what we did.”

Leechburg (12-9) advances to play top-seed Vincentian (14-7) on Thursday at a site and time to be determined. Bishop Canevin closed its season at 14-8.

“I got to give credit to Leechburg, ” Crusaders coach Gino Palmosina said. “I thought they had a good gameplan with the zone (defense). We saw shots fall early, and then after that, we fell kind of streaky and I think that’s where it hurt us the most.”

Bishop Canevin sophomore Nevan Crossey gave his team a 7-3 lead 212 minutes into the first quarter. Then, the lights went out, and Fox Chapel’s gym got quiet.

“When the lights went out, it reminded me of the Super Bowl,” Smith said. “It was a spark for us, and it might of helped us out a little bit tonight.”

The gym went dark for just a few seconds, but it was almost symbolic of how the rest of the game would go for the Crusaders. Leechburg freshman guard Eli Rich made back-to-back 3-pointers to spark the Blue Devils and cut Bishop Canevin’s lead at 15-14 at the end of the first quarter. Rich finished with 12 points.

“We got to value every possession this time of year, and Leechburg didn’t make too many mistakes,” Palmosina said.

Defensively, Leechburg point guard Dylan Cook was a problem all night for the Crusaders. Cook looked like a defensive back at times, picking off passes in stride and running the other way for the easy layups.

“I don’t get many (pick sixes) in football because I don’t play defense, so I had to get some tonight,” Cook said. “A lot of our defensive schemes come from the sideline, so most of the credit goes to Coach Corey and drawing up the schemes on the sideline.”

After a 3-pointer from Crossey, McDermott responded with one of his own from the right elbow to give the Blue Devils a 22-21 lead with 7:17 left in the half. From there, the Blue Devils went on a 9-4 run to close the second quarter, which was highlighted by Cook’s running baseline jumper at the buzzer.

“Dylan was a dog tonight,” Smith said. “I drew up the first play of the game tonight, and I said, ‘I’m gonna get you involved.’ ”

Bishop Canevin came out flat in the third quarter, and the Blue Devils couldn’t have been any hotter. The Crusaders scored just four third-quarter points with both baskets coming off steals and layups.

“We made more mistakes, and once they got up 12 or 15 points, against that zone, it’s tough to really push the basketball and speed the game up,” Palmosina said.

McDermott led the charge, pacing the Blue Devils with five points in the third quarter. Senior John Miskinis connected on a long 3-pointer to bring the score to 43-27 with 1:44 left in the third.

Junior Jake Blumer took the wheel and steered the Blue Devils to victory, scoring five of his 12 points in the fourth quarter.

“Coming into this game, we knew that we had run our sets hard, play good defense and work as a team,” Blumer said.

Kevaughn Price had 12 points to pace Bishop Canevin.

“My guys will fight until the end, win or lose,” Smith said. “They are not the biggest or the fastest. We will fight. We will execute you, and we will recognize what you are in and then get it done. I can’t be more prouder of my guys.”

William Whalen is a freelance writer.

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