Nazareth Prep runs past Leechburg to win tournament title

Saturday, December 2, 2023 | 10:37 PM

Led by a first-year coach and an entirely new starting lineup, the Leechburg boys basketball team looks a lot different this year. On Saturday afternoon, however, the Blue Devils found some unfortunate familiarity: Nazareth Prep raising a trophy at their expense.

Powered by junior Will Evans and his 14 points, Nazareth Prep defeated the Blue Devils, 53-21, in the championship game of the Leechburg Tip-Off Tournament. Evans, a 25-point scorer against Homer-Center on Friday, was named tournament MVP. It’s Nazareth Prep’s second consecutive tourney title.

“Our defense is our No. 1 offense. We wanted to set the tone defensively and get after ’em to see if it can create easy opportunities for us to score on offense, and that’s exactly what we did,” Nazareth Prep coach Tanya Garner said. “Their turnovers created our offense, and that gets the juices going when you have athletes. They want to get out and run. And that’s what we did tonight.”

Indeed, Nazareth Prep’s swarming full-court defense was simply too much for Leechburg to handle for much of the game. That was especially true once Brady Rollinger, the Blue Devils’ primary ball-handler, was relegated to the bench with foul trouble early in the second quarter.

Nazareth Prep took a 16-point lead into the halftime break, then used an 11-0 run to put the game out of Leechburg’s reach.

“We’re a young team. We knew that coming in. We had an emotional win last night against Apollo-Ridge, and today, you know, it’s just a learning moment for them,” Leechburg coach Andrew McDermott said. “We came out in the first, we were making it tough for them to score.

“In the second quarter into the third quarter, just kind of fell apart there. You know, the composure with a young team. You’re going to have (those struggles).”

A quick bucket from Evans opened the game’s scoring, but then Leechburg answered with a 7-0 run. Sitting in a compact 2-3 zone defense, Leechburg initially made it difficult for Nazareth Prep to get going offensively. A multitude of Blue Devil turnovers eventually allowed Nazareth Prep to find its groove and it never looked back.

“Play real aggressive on defense, trap,” Evans said. “That was the main goal. Press.”

Garner said that while the tournament win is great, her team has bigger fish to fry.

“It’s always good to get a win because it builds confidence. It helps bond the team. But this is only the beginning,” she said. “We did what we wanted to do here at this tournament. Now we’ve got to get ready for Sto-Rox. That’s our next test.”

Evans, easily the best player on the court in Saturday’s game, said his team has another gear to reach defensively.

“I would say the only thing we need to work on is our defense. I know we played really well defensively this tournament, but that’s the main thing we need to work on is defense,” he said.

Leechburg will regroup before a Dec. 7 showdown with Aquinas Academy.

McDermott said he’ll be stressing the importance of ball security in practice this week. In addition to Rollinger, he said the team is working to develop ancillary ball-handlers such as Rocco Vigna, Jayden Floyd and Mason Bertino.

“Way too many turnovers both nights. We got lucky against Apollo. I think we had 30 team turnovers. Today, turnovers killed us again. We’ve gotta focus on taking care of the ball,” McDermott said.

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