Lincoln Park beats perennial PIAA power Neumann-Goretti in state finals classic
Thursday, March 23, 2023 | 9:50 PM
HERSHEY — With 11 seconds on the clock, Lincoln Park’s Meleek Thomas knew it was time to “boogie.”
That’s his word to describe the late-game heroics he can do with the basketball in his hands. The 6-foot-4 sophomore star split two defenders and broke a tie with a high-arcing floater, the go-ahead shot that let Lincoln Park defeat nine-time champion Neumann-Goretti, 62-58, Thursday night in the PIAA Class 4A final at Giant Center in Hershey.
Neumann-Goretti had two chances to tie, but both shots bounced off the rim. Lincoln Park’s Brandin Cummings grabbed the second rebound, was fouled and added two free throws with five-tenths of a second left.
It was a dramatic finish fitting for a game that matched two of the more-talented rosters in the state.
There were 13 lead changes, 11 ties and nobody led by more than seven points. The final tie was at 58, and Lincoln Park called a timeout with 20 seconds left to scheme for the go-ahead shot.
“(The play) was for me to come off a screen and, as I would call it, just boogie,” said Thomas, who noticed his defender playing him a little more aggressively. “I went past him, swim moved his arm and used the floater. I like the floater.
“It was efficient.”
The Leopards led 60-58.
— Chris Harlan (@CHarlan_Trib) March 24, 2023
“We got a little low in a gap and he was able to split us,” Neumann-Goretti coach Carl Arrigale said. “He made a tough shot. It wasn’t like it was a layup. It was a one-legged shot.”
If Thomas didn’t have a good look, his other option was to pass to Cummings, coach Mike Bariski said. Not many high school teams have a tandem that can match Lincoln Park’s big-play duo.
They combined for 47 points in this game.
“As soon as I heard the play we’d drawn up for him, I said, ‘That’s a bucket,’” Cummings said. “It’s Meleek Thomas. That’s going to be a bucket 10 times out of 10.”
Thomas went 9 for 22 shooting. Cummings finished 7 for 15.
Neumann-Goretti (27-3) was the defending state champion and undefeated in PIAA championship games overall. Yet after nine consecutive wins in the state finals, Lincoln Park (30-1) handed the Philadelphia power its first championship loss.
The state title was Lincoln Park’s third.
“I’ve got the best team in the state,” Thomas said. “It’s so surreal, especially to hit the game-winner. We knew coming into this game that we weren’t going to lose.”
Cummings scored a team-high 25 points and Thomas had 22. Both are Division I recruits, with Cummings committed to Pitt and Thomas ranked as the fourth-best sophomore prospect nationally by ESPN.
The matchup drew Kentucky coach John Calipari to Giant Center, but the Lincoln Park duo weren’t the only major-college talents in the game. Neumann-Goretti junior Rob Wright, a Baylor commit, scored a game-high 27.
After Thomas gave the Leopards the lead, Wright sprinted the length of the court in the final seconds, but his tying layup rolled off the rim. A putback by teammate Sultan Adewale missed a second later.
“Those were so close,” Cummings said. “We had to get that second rebound.”
Lincoln Park led by five points early in the fourth quarter, but that didn’t last long. Neumann-Goretti scored six in a row to lead 48-46 near the five-minute mark. There were fourth-quarter ties at 46, 48, 50, 52, 56, 57 and 58.
Two free throws by Cummings gave Lincoln Park a 58-57 lead, and Wright made one of two at the 47-second mark to tie at 58. The Leopards held the ball, ran the clock down to 20 seconds and called a timeout.
Thomas then delivered a shot that knocked out a perennial PIAA champion.
“I’m made for it,” he said. “I’ve put so much work in. For them to put the ball in my hands on the last play felt great.”
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .
Tags: Lincoln Park
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