Moon shakes off WPIAL championship malaise to get past Obama Academy

Friday, March 8, 2024 | 11:26 PM

Usually, WPIAL basketball champions have a tough time coming out of the gates in the first PIAA playoff game.

Boys Class 5A champion Moon had no issues with a quick start, but hit a malaise in the middle two quarters before pulling away from a game Obama Academy team Friday, winning 52-34.

“People don’t realize, it’s a tough week to prepare for,” Moon coach Gina Palmosina said. “We had a tough week of practice, I’m not going to lie. The kids were unfocussed here and there. Drills we do, they were a little bit lazy. At the end of the day, you have to play a full game or you could be going home. We had a good scrimmage against Aliquippa which helped turn things around, but it’s more difficult than people think.”

Moon did a great job early in its transition game, turning defense into offense and building up an early lead after one quarter, 17-9.

Tigers senior Elijah Guillory scored 16 points with most of his damage coming in the first half when he scored 12.

“He’s a heck of a player,” Palmosina said. “When he gets to certain spots he likes, he’s almost at times unguardable unless you bring a second defender. I thought the Obama game plan against him was pretty solid. (Torrien Perkins) did a good job on him. Early on, he got us going and he was huge on the defensive end, which he doesn’t get enough credit for.”

Both defense tightened up after the first quarter. Moon was limited to a combined 18 points in the middle two quarters; however, Obama Academy also scored 18 in the middle two quarters and could never cut the deficit to single digits.

“Defensively, we did a job, only giving up nine in the first quarter,” Palmosina said. “We got away from sharing the ball in the second and third quarters.”

The Tigers also struggled from behind the 3-point line, connecting on only one 3-pointer the entire contest.

“I thought those 3s that we shot were really good shots,” Palmosina said. “Every shot taken in that third quarter that didn’t find a way through the hoop, I’m OK with. We let our guys fire away. They’ve earned that opportunity.”

The Eagles would not quit despite the early deficit and kept the game within reach heading into the fourth quarter.

The final eight minutes began with Obama Academy closing to within 10 points on a 3-pointer from senior guard Keivan Harris. He led the Eagles with 16 points, including four 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.

“Keivan’s a guy who is so underrated,” Obama Academy coach Naron Jackson said. “He’s a quiet kid, but he shoots the ball with the best of them. Once we saw they were helping a lot on the dribble-drive with Naron (Jackson) and Torrien (Perkins), we just kept running different quick hitters to get him going. Once he sees a couple fall, he is in rhythm.”

Despite losing in the City League title game to Allderdice, Obama Academy was the only boys basketball team from the City League to reach the PIAA playoffs. Their season ends at 10-14.

“(Moon is) a smart, lengthy team that played hard and played to their strengths,” Jackson said. “Our kids played hard, tough City League basketball. I wish them nothing but the best. They should continue to do well.”

Tigers senior Michael Santicola led all scorers with 18 points, with 10 of them coming in the fourth quarter when he and his teammates finished strong.

“A lot of coverage is going to go to Elijah, and if we start moving the ball from side to side, sharing and getting reversals, lanes will open up and Michael’s an athlete and a heck of a basketball player,” Palmosina said. “He saw the opportunity to take some lanes and he made buckets.”

Moon improves to 24-3 and will now move on to the 5A second round to face a York Suburban team that defeated Thomas Jefferson in the opening round.

“Happy we are advancing, but it was one of our worst nights this season,” Palmosina said. “Our kids do a good job of not getting to high or too low in the midst of a game, so you have to give them credit for that.”

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