Mars outduels North Hills on Tasso Sfanos buzzer-beating 3-pointer

Saturday, January 28, 2023 | 12:34 AM

Tasso Sfanos knew it was in as soon as the ball left his hand.

Considering what he had accomplished already, his confidence was understandable, but the degree of difficulty he pulled off to hit a buzzer beater can’t be understated.

Sfanos had three defenders on him and had to adjust mid-air, but he swished a 3-pointer as time expired to complete a 40-point night and lift No. 5 Mars to a 73-72 win over No. 2 North Hills in a Section 4-5A game Friday night.

Afterwards, Sfanos was mobbed by teammates and the Mars student section, which stormed the court in celebration.

“It had been a good night for me, and I knew that it was the shot we wanted,” Sfanos said. “It was awesome, especially with the crowd we had come out tonight. A lot of our guys stepped up and hit open shots, which created more open space for me.”

Prior to Sfanos’ game-winner, North Hills got the lead on a Royce Parham dunk off a pass by Zach Pollaro with four seconds remaining.

The Indians had two fouls to give and used one at midcourt with just over two seconds remaining. Following a timeout by Mars, North Hills did not foul once the Fightin’ Planets inbounded the ball, electing to play defense instead.

“You second guess yourself and think about different things you can do, but in that situation, I thought our guys did a really good job,” North Hills coach Buzz Gabos said. “He catches it on the move, cuts his dribble and by the time he shoots it, the ball is almost over his left shoulder. He heaves it, and we have three guys around him, and it goes in.

“Like it told our guys afterwards, we had done that to a few teams this year. We did it to Seneca Valley, South Fayette and Grove City. It feels really good when it’s you. Now we’re on the other end.”

With the win, Mars (12-4, 4-2) handed North Hills (13-4, 5-1) its first section loss of the season. The Fightin’ Planets also avenged a 75-42 loss on Jan. 3.

Mars coach Rob Carmody said the first meeting was the first big section game for four new starters and they’ve used it as a learning experience to improve.

He also said Sfanos took the game a little personally, because he had an off night and was confident he’d bounce back in a big way Friday.

Sfanos made six 3-pointers, hit several tough mid-range jumpers and a few acrobatic layups.

“You don’t have to be a real smart coach to say, “Get the ball to Tasso” (on the final play),” Carmody said. “We just had a very basic screen for screener action, Tasso got the ball and then his skill took over. The way he played tonight … I mean, what a way to get your 40th point. Tasso is a senior, and he’s really the only guy that lettered last year that’s on our team. He rewarded all the other guys that worked to get him shots and got rewarded for all the time he’s spent in the gym.”

The energy on the court was intense from start to finish.

Sfanos and Parham matched each other shot for shot in the first quarter, each scoring 13 points. That continued into the second, and at halftime, Sfanos had 24 points and Parham had 23.

Neither team held a lead bigger than six points the entire way.

Mars got a big boost at the end of the third, when Austin Campbell nailed a shot from half-court. It gave Mars a 60-55 lead.

“That got us all hyped up because it was a big momentum change,” Sfanos said. “Austin is a great shooter. He’s been showing it the past three games.”

Pollaro nailed a couple of key 3-pointers in the fourth, which helped North Hills tie the game at 70-70. He finished with 16 points.

Parham, who has more than a dozen Division I offers, scored 33 for the Indians.

“Remi Black and Ian Zukowski did a great job on Parham,” Sfanos said. “He’s a good player, so he is going to get his, but we did a good job battling him and wearing him out a little bit.”

It was a bitter ending for the Indians, but also a reminder on how difficult games can be on the road.

“Players are in the moment, so I don’t know if they can appreciate how tough it is, “ Gabos said. “Coaches are really the only ones that know how tough it is to go on the road and win a game no matter where it is.

“We have a target on our back for a few reasons. The success we had last year, we’re new to 5A and we have one of the most dominant players in our area. Wherever we go, the gyms are usually full and I joke with the guys all the time that they aren’t there to see me. That being said, you have to be ready to take everyone’s best shot every night. I think we were ready, but they just gave us a better shot than we could handle. You have to credit them for that.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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