Long scoreless stretch dashes Aliquippa’s hopes for state basketball title

Saturday, March 26, 2022 | 4:42 PM

HERSHEY — Aliquippa reached the state finals with four sophomores in the starting lineup, and that youth maybe showed itself at the worst time.

The Quips went scoreless for more than six minutes, and their opponent scored 25 consecutive points, a frustrating run Aliquippa couldn’t overcome in Saturday’s 76-58 loss to Devon Prep in the PIAA Class 3A boys final at Giant Center.

The score was tied 34-34 before the run, which started late in the second quarter with nine consecutive points before halftime and then stretched into the third.

After the run, Devon Prep led 59-34.

“It was a couple of bad decisions, one right after another,” Aliquippa coach Nick Lackovich said. “When you turn the ball over two, three times, they convert 3s off them, it goes from tied to being down nine that quick.”

This was the first state championship appearance for Devon Prep (15-4), a relative newcomer to the Philadelphia Catholic League. All five starters scored in double figures for the Tide, who shot 52% from the field and 47% from 3-point range.

Devon Prep started nobody taller than 6-foot-4, but the lineup was the most-balanced Aliquippa had faced all season, said Lackovich, adding, “They might be the most balanced team in this whole championship tournament. … Balance from 1 to 5, who else can do that?”

Devon Prep’s Lucas Orchard scored 17 points, Jacen Holloway had 16, Argel Pettit had 15 and Ty Mishock and Allen Cieslak each added 13. Combined, the group went 10 for 21 from beyond the arc.

“All could shoot. All can dribble,” Lackovich said. “You don’t see that very often. Just about as often as you see four sophomores and a junior make it this far.”

Aliquippa (21-9) was trying to join a short list of PIAA schools to win state football and basketball titles in the same seasons. All five starters were on the Quips football team that won a state title in December.

Sophomore Cameron Lindsey led the Quips with 14 points and 11 rebounds, and sophomore Demarkus Walker added 12 points. The Quips shot 37% from the field (22 for 59) and made only 7 of 24 attempts from 3-point range. D.J. Walker, the team’s leading scorer and lone junior starter, went 3 for 16 from the field and 1 for 9 from the arc.

Aliquippa was trying to win its sixth PIAA title overall and the team’s first since 2016. Saturday’s outcome fit with the rest of the weekend: Traditional public schools won only two state championships.

“It would help if schools with boundaries don’t have to play ones that don’t have boundaries,” Lackovich said, “but it is what it is.”

With less than three minutes left in the second quarter, the Quips offense went silent after a 3-pointer by Demarkus Walker forced a 34-34 tie.

Devon Prep had started with zone defense but switched to man and started doubling the first pass. Aliquippa committed six turnovers in their six-minute scoreless streak, including two just before halftime. The Quips also missed nine consecutive shots during Devon Prep’s run.

“The first quarter we tried different zones, and they just got too comfortable,” Devon Prep coach Jason Fisher said. “In the second quarter, I made the choice to speed them up and see what they’d do.”

Devon Prep scored nine consecutive points late in the second quarter and headed to halftime with a 43-34 lead. Aliquippa didn’t score a second-half point until Lindsey made a layup with about four minutes left in the third.

Devon Prep led 64-47 after three.

“I kind of thought we tried every little thing that we could,” Lackovich said. “We put different guys in. We tried to pressure. We tried to double. It was their day.”

Aliquippa went 1 for 10 from 3-point range after halftime.

Devon Prep joined the Philadelphia Catholic League four years ago. The Tide, which went 1-11 in the PCL in 2019 and 3-9 in ’20, finished 7-6 this season. Their schedule included games with PIAA Class 6A finalists Roman Catholic and Archbishop Wood, along with 4A champion Neumann-Goretti.

“Playing in the Catholic League, there’s a lot of size and length,” Fisher said. “We don’t have that, so when we joined the league, we had to come up with ways to combat that. Being able to put five guys on the court who can shoot, dribble and defend, you saw what you saw today.”

Devon Prep went 14 for 29 from the field in the second and third quarter including 6 for 13 from 3-point range.

“They’re a good team. We knew that coming in,” Lackovich said. “I can’t sit there and say, ‘Well, we didn’t expect this.’ They did everything that we expected. We had a bad stretch there. In championship basketball, you can’t do that.”

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.


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