Mt. Pleasant boys make stand in final seconds to stop Derry

Friday, January 3, 2020 | 9:57 PM

Derry had one last chance, but Mt. Pleasant wasn’t having it.

Sophomore forward Luke Brandner swiped at the ball and knocked it away as Derry’s Tyson Webb drove the lane and teammate Jake Johnson swarmed to complete the steal in the closing seconds as Mt. Pleasant held on for a 51-49 victory over the visiting Trojans on Friday night in Section 1-4A.

Johnson scored a game-high 23 points, 14 in the second half, and the Vikings (5-5, 2-0) saw their big men play well as they snapped a four-game losing streak after rallying from an early deficit.

“We pressed the whole first half and tried to do too much,” Mt. Pleasant coach Allan Bilinsky said. “We passed the ball more in the second half and led to better things. It was a game of runs. Derry made their run. We made our run. Our run was two points better.”

Johnson, a 6-foot-3 senior guard, scored eight in the third quarter and the Vikings flipped a 22-21 deficit into a 39-31 lead late in the quarter.

In the fourth, Derry (3-7, 1-1) chipped away at the lead but could not overtake the Vikings, who got contributions from several players down the stretch, including 6-5 junior Jake Bungard, who made back-to-back baskets to keep the Trojans at bay.

Brander finished with eight points.

“Jake Bungard played his best game of the season,” Bilinsky said. “Jonas King played well for us. Luke played well for us. Ty Salvatore hit a three. Toohey hit a three. We had a lot of guys contribute. We are starting to find chemistry and we think we can be a pretty good team.”

Johnson had a tip-in and drove the lane for a hoop to give Mt. Pleasant a 49-42 lead. Junior Jonas King, another 6-5 post player, scored for the Vikings to maintain a seven-point advantage, 51-44.

Derry played its fourth straight game without senior guard Justin Huss, who broke his leg against Freeport and will miss the rest of the season.

“I thought we did a nice job of holding (Johnson) in check early,” Derry coach Tom Esposito said. “He had to work for everything. And I thought our bigs did a fabulous job inside. Give Mt. Pleasant credit. They played well.”

Junior Ryan Bushey, who attacked the rim against taller defenders for much of the night, drove and scored, and Webb buried his fourth 3-pointer with 55 seconds left to shave it to 51-49.

Derry had two fouls to give and tried to get a five-second count on an inbounds play. Instead, Mt. Pleasant inbounded and the Trojans fouled Johnson.

He missed the front end of a 1-and-1 and Derry came away with the rebound and some hope. But Brandner stepped in to make the key defensive play and Johnson corralled the ball and zinged it down court as the buzzer sounded.

“We just couldn’t get our shots to fall early,” Johnson said. “We had the shots that we wanted. We tried to force our passes a little too much. In the second half, we calmed down, played our game a little bit better and ran down the court like we do.”

Johnson scored a number of ways. While this game was the first of the season that did not include a 3-pointer for him, Johnson hit from the perimeter, touched in a few bank shots and delivered an up-and-under layup.

Johnson had a 40-point game against Laurel Highlands.

“My teammates help out all the time,” Johnson said. “Whether its on the scoreboard, rebounding, defense steals, they help out. … It’s not just today. It’s every day they help out.”

A slow-developing first quarter saw Derry push ahead to a 14-6 advantage, sparked by two 3-pointers from Webb, a sophomore guard.

Johnson and junior Lucas Toohey helped bring the Vikings back in the second quarter as both scored five points, Toohey’s coming consecutively. His 3-pointer tied it at 21-21 at the half.

Webb had four 3s and finished with 12 points to match senior Tanner Nicely for a team high.

Ryan Bushey added 11, nine in the second half, and Derry’s top scorer, senior Aidan Bushey, chipped in nine.

“It’s gut-check time,” Esposito said. “We need to get over the hump. Our record is not indicitive of how hard we work and prepare. We’ll get there.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at or via Twitter .

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