Lincoln Park boys crank up defensive pressure, take down Neshannock

Thursday, February 20, 2020 | 10:58 PM

When Mike Bariski writes on the white board in Lincoln Park’s locker room before each game, he writes defense first.

Then he lists the Leopards’ defenses.

Next, Bariski writes offense and repeats the process.

For the first time this year, tonight, according to Biriski, one of his guys spoke up and said, “Coach writes defense first because that’s the most important thing.”

The reaction may have been in response to what Bariski described as a bad night of defense in the minutes following Lincoln Park’s first-round victory against Deer Lakes last Friday.

On Thursday, Lincoln Park didn’t start well. The ninth-seeded Neshannock Lancers opened with a 10-2 lead over the two-time defending WPIAL champions.

From there, the defense of the Leopards was exceptional. Neshannock scored just two points the remainder of the half, part of a 21-2 Lincoln Park run that put it ahead for good, allowing the Leopards to continue to defend the crown in Monday’s semifinals in Class 3A.

Lincoln Park (20-4) rode the run and a strong second half of defense to a 57-34 win over the Lancers (16-8) at New Castle High School.

“We worked on defense for three days. We worked on a lot of running and a little of attitude adjustment. We had that tonight on that end,” said Bariski. “I think once the nerves went away and we withstood the big rush, we were OK. We took that first big punch.”

Among the catalysts in the 21-2 run to end the first half were a few big shots and transition buckets by a number of Leopards, including two triples from Isaiah Smith.

The other catalysts were forced turnovers and strong defense away from the basketball by guys like Johnnie Bryant and Dakari Bradford. The two finished with five and four points, respectively, but were instrumental on the defensive end, Bariski said.

Smith ended the night with 13 points.

“Isaiah was exceptional. He’s our stud,” said Bariski. “But let me tell you, Johnnie and Dakari were exceptional defensively, face guarding and in ball denial.”

Senior Andre Wilder led the bunch with a game-high 18 points in the win.

“Mr. Playoffs. I’m telling you that,” said Bariski. “Go back and look at some of his games in the playoffs. It’s what he does.”

The Lancers, despite the strong start, were dealing with some illness and injury and have been since their overtime win over Washington in the first round. John Corey gave most of the credit to Lincoln Park’s ability to take things up a notch.

“Our guys came out and played with a lot of confidence,” said Carey. “Lincoln Park turned it up a notch after that first run we had. Their athletic ability and size across the board is the story. They make things difficult.”

The Lancers were led by eight points from JP Mozzocio.

Neshannock is alive for a spot in the state playoffs and would get in if Lincoln Park wins in the semifinals or if Lincoln Park loses but the finalist from that game wins the title.

Lincoln Park will meet Aliquippa, a Section 1-3A foe, for the third time this season in Monday’s semifinals.

The Leopards defeated the Quips in both matchups this season, by eight points on the road and by four points at home.

Watch an archived broadcast of this game at Trib HSSN.

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