Mt. Lebanon arrived Friday ready to battle Connellsville’s Seth Younkin, a 6-foot-6 forward who leads his team in points and rebounds.
But the senior injured an ankle in the opening minutes and was already at the hospital for X-rays before the game ended.
“That changed things a lot,” Mt. Lebanon senior Antonio Garofoli said. “Our whole game plan was basically to stop him because he’s such a good player. Obviously, you hate to see him go down, but we knew we had to take advantage.”
Garofoli scored a team-high 15 points with three 3-pointers and top-ranked Mt. Lebanon won 64-56 to stay undefeated in Section 2-6A. Sophomore Jake Hoffman and junior Mike Palmer added 11 points each for the host Blue Devils.
Mt. Lebanon (9-1, 3-0) attempted 3-pointers early against Connellsville’s zone — 13 tries in the first quarter — but worked its way to the basket late, in part because the Fairmont State recruit wasn’t defending the middle anymore.
With 4 minutes left, Mt. Lebanon led by 15 points.
“The fear of him (was gone) knowing he’s not there,” Garofoli said. “We’re going to get around these guys. We knew we could. With him there, we knew we had to shoot them out of it.”
But Connellsville (7-4, 2-2) didn’t crumble.
The teams were tied at 20-20 midway through the second quarter and the gap stayed in single digits until a last-second layup gave Mt. Lebanon a 47-36 lead after three.
“Sometimes (losing a teammate) is a rallying cry, and I think that’s what happened with these guys,” Mt. Lebanon coach Joe David said. “They just kind of relaxed and said: ‘We don’t have Seth. Let’s play.’ And they just played. There wasn’t a whole lot of pressure on them at that point in time. Sometimes the pressure ends up being on us.”
Connellsville’s Jalen Rogers scored 14 of his game-high 18 points in the fourth quarter as Mt. Lebanon’s lead shrunk to eight. Dylan Bubarth and Treyvon Clayton added 11 points apiece.
Clayton made 3 of 7 from the arc and the Falcons finished 7 of 18 from 3-point range.
“Everybody else has to step up, and for the most part they did,” Connellsville coach Andy Hedrick said. “We hung in there pretty good. That’s a really good team we’re playing. To lose someone like that so early and stay competitive, I can’t say anything negative about our kids.”
Younkin was injured with 2:55 left in the first quarter when he landed awkwardly after leaping for a rebound. Mt. Lebanon led 11-9 when Younkin was hurt.
Afterward, a 3-pointer from Clayton gave Connellsville a 12-11 lead. The Falcons also forced ties at 14 and 20.
“But you can’t let down for a second,” Hedrick said. “Any mistake that we made, they make you pay for. We made a few more mistakes than they did.”
Tied at 20, Mt. Lebanon upped its pressure, forced consecutive turnovers and sparked a 9-0 run in the second quarter. Hoffman and Palmer combined for three straight baskets in the stretch to build a lead the Blue Devils never lost.
Mt. Lebanon led 29-22 at half.
Garofoli hit three 3s in the first quarter, but the Blue Devils made just 5 of 17 from the arc in the first half. They finished 8 for 27 overall.
“If we make those shots, the game is going to be completely different,” David said. “But today when you miss them, you’ve got to grind a little bit.”
This was Mt. Lebanon’s first game back after a three-game trip to Texas. They fell short of their 73.9-point scoring average, which ranked best in WPIAL Class 6A. But the win keeps them a game ahead of Canon-McMillan (2-1) in the standings.
“A win is a win,” David said. “In our section, you’ve got to cover your home base. Our guys did a good job of that.”
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.