Monessen boys upset WPIAL champion Nazareth Prep in PIAA quarterfinals
Friday, March 15, 2019 | 10:13 PM
Devin Whitlock leaped into the arms of his teammates at midcourt, his face beaming as the rest of the Monessen players rallied around him, jumping and screaming with elation.
The Greyhounds had pulled off an upset, downing WPIAL champion Nazareth Prep, 50-46, in the PIAA Class A quaterfinals Friday at Keystone Oaks.
Monessen (18-9) played its best quarter of the game when it mattered most, taking control after being tied at 37-37 after the third.
Dishon Howell hit two game-clinching free throws with 9 seconds to play to wrap up the victory.
“I just had to go to the line and focus and not listen to the crowd and not listen to anything,” Howell said. “Just block everything out and just shoot them how you shoot them in practice.”
He made two other clutch shots — a 3-pointer with 4:08 left that put the Greyhounds up 41-37 and a putback with a minute remaining to push the lead to 46-43.
It was an emotional win, Whitlock said, but not surprising. Not for these unfazed, ever-confident Greyhounds.
“We were confident going in,” Whitlock said. “I feel like we had the advantage with our speed and just our length.”
Where other teams might have seen a daunting opponent on the other end, Monessen saw an opportunity. It’s that mentality that brought the Greyhounds to this point, and to the WPIAL semifinals last month. And it was that type of mentality, that toughness and confidence, that was readily apparent Friday.
It was apparent in Whitlock’s performance, as the 5-foot-7 freshman phenom scored 15 points and grabbed nine rebounds. It was apparent when Dishon Howell nailed two clutch free throws to ice the game with nine seconds left, although he was dealing with severe wrist pain.
And it was apparent in a stellar defensive effort, a throttling man-to-man defense that more than held its own against a group of quick Nazareth Prep guards, limiting the Saints to 21 points below their season average.
“I think it speaks to the toughness of our kids and their willingness to accept those challenges,” Monessen coach Dan Bosnic said. “They’re going to the line there at the end of games and we have the ball in tough positions, and their resolve kind of shines through in those moments where they don’t get rattled.”
From the start, the Hounds made it clear they would not be rattled, jumping to an early lead behind their defense. Nazareth Prep (21-4) didn’t score its first points of the game until midway through the first quarter when Jabriel Johnson hit two free throws.
The Saints’ first bucket came with 1:38 left in the quarter when Tre Harvey hit a 3-pointer. Nazareth Prep had diced up man-to-man defenses all season, but not in this game as the first quarter ended in a 10-10 tie.
“Going into the game, I believed that we were going to present them with a different type of pressure and different type of intensity that they might not have seen on defense. And we were able to do that tonight,” Bosnic said. “I thought our kids did a great job of staying in front of the basketball, making them shoot challenging shots.”
The Saints though, would only be held down for so long. Increasing the pace in the second quarter, Nazareth Prep took a 28-25 lead into halftime. Harvey contributed eight straight points to lead led the Saints’ rally.
The Greyhounds started the third quarter on 6-0 run and held the Saints without points until the 3:08 mark of the quarter.
Leading the way for the Greyhounds was Whitlock, making tough, crafty finishes and skying for rebounds and putbacks.
“It’s really remarkable to watch a young kid, a freshman go out there and no moment is too big for him,” Bosnic said. “He’s a fearless kid.”
And now, because of Howell, because of Whitlock, because of a clutch group effort, the Greyhounds are still alive and kicking feverishly. Another daunting opponent stands in their way — a Vincentian Academy team (19-8) that beat them in the WPIAL semifinals — but they’re far from afraid.
“We’re not satisfied,” Howell said. “We’re trying to go Hershey (for the PIAA championship game). We want this bad.”