Lincoln Park boys basketball seeking consistency

Thursday, January 30, 2020 | 9:14 PM

Lincoln Park’s boys basketball team has chased consistency all season.

The Leopards (16-2) know they’ll have to find it before the WPIAL Class 3A playoffs approach.

“We’ve had some ups and downs like every team has. We’ve been playing some great basketball one week and, the next week, we play some very average basketball,” Lincoln Park coach Mike Bariski said. “In a span of a week last week, we played Aliquippa, New Brighton and Kennedy Catholic. It was a roller-coaster ride. We played a great game and had a nice battle against Aliquippa, played horribly against New Brighton and played exceptionally well against Kennedy.

“I think reality hit them (against New Brighton). We had our senior night that night, and I think reality hit them that we’ve gone over the midway point and this is the downhill part of the journey. We’re hoping we have 13 or 14 more games left.”

After staving off New Brighton’s upset bid for a 60-50 win, Lincoln Park responded with a 58-45 win over Kennedy Catholic, the defending PIAA Class 6A champ, Sunday at the PBC Hall of Fame Classic at Montour

“Our Kennedy Catholic game showed how good our team could be. I think we were all pleased with each other after that. If we play like that, I don’t think anyone will be able to beat us down the stretch,” Lincoln Park senior point guard Isaiah Smith said. “We all have to stay focused and keep each other accountable. New Brighton almost got away with one against us. We have to keep each other accountable. We can’t afford those types of games because we will get upset, potentially.”

The Leopards believe a balanced offensive approach will help avoid any off nights. Lincoln Park’s starters — Andre Wilder, Tanner Mathos, Johnnie Bryant and Smith, as well as a platoon of Dakari Bradford and Monte Reddick — produce points at every position.

“We have five guys scoring in double figures and that’s how we were last year throughout the playoffs, too. I like it. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Smith said. “Being the point guard, I try to get all the guys on the team their touches. If we get everybody comfortable and let everyone get their shots in, everyone will have fun and we’ll win another championship. I could score 20 a game, but I choose not to because I know what it takes to win a championship. If one is person is scoring 25 points per game and we lose, it really doesn’t matter.”

“We are a team this year that is so evenly distributed in points. It makes us a lot more consistent,” Bariski said. “We are able to count on each guy every night. It’s like going in a circle. At the top of the circle, you have someone scoring 15, then 12, 13, 10 and eight. That pendulum keeps shifting. Each guy will take a turn at the top.”

Lincoln Park has made it a priority to toughen up its defense, too.

“Every game, our defense gets a little better and the points go down. We had Kennedy held to 32 points with five minutes to go in the fourth quarter. They scored a ton in the last four minutes after we substituted a lot, but our defense has stepped up,” Bariski said. “Our loss to Highlands (73-51) was really a reality check for us to concentrate on defense more. We’ve gotten better defensively since that game. It’s something we work on every day and our hard work is paying dividends.”

The Leopards hope to rely on their defense in a grueling stretch to close the regular season. They wrapped up at least a share of the Section 1 title Tuesday with a 73-53 win at Beaver Falls. Their busy week continues Friday when they play Ellwood City and Saturday against Vincentian. The team closes section play next Friday at Neshannock and the regular season two days later against New Castle.

“At this point, it’s all about who is the most mentally strong will come out with the win,” Smith said. “Everyone is being smart with what they do and keeping their bodies right and staying mentally focused. Our schedule is a good test for our team.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.


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