No. 1 Lincoln Park survives WPIAL quarterfinal test from South Allegheny

Thursday, February 23, 2023 | 11:21 PM

Lincoln Park was held 25 points below its season average and didn’t make a 3-pointer all game, yet the WPIAL favorite in Class 4A is still alive.

Sophomore star Meleek Thomas scored a game-high 23 points and top-seeded Lincoln Park played strong defense down the stretch to hold off No. 8 South Allegheny, 50-40, Thursday night in a WPIAL quarterfinal win at Moon.

The Leopards won despite going 0 for 12 from beyond the arc, and the 50 points were one off their season low.

“We always talk about how we need to win other ways when we can’t shoot it,” Lincoln Park coach Mike Bariski said. “Last year we couldn’t do that. Now, we can.”

Lincoln Park (23-1) advances to face No. 5 Highlands (21-3) in a semifinal Monday at a site and time to be announced. South Allegheny (19-5) visits Hampton (21-3) for a consolation-bracket game Saturday.

The Leopards held the lead from the second quarter on, but the outcome was undecided into the fourth. Lincoln Park’s lead was trimmed to 40-37 with about four minutes left, but South Allegheny made only one basket in the closing stretch.

The Gladiators are usually a strong perimeter shooting team, yet finished 5 for 22 from 3-point range and missed all five 3s they took in the fourth. Lincoln Park’s size, including Thomas’ length at 6-foot-4, caused them problems.

“We battled them for four quarters and gave them everything we had,” South Allegheny coach Tony DiCenzo said. “We had open looks when it was under a five-point game, but we just couldn’t get that shot to fall.”

Lincoln Park could surely relate.

Thomas was the only Lincoln Park player to score in double figures. As usual, a handful of college scouts were in the crowd to watch him, Bariski said.

Lincoln Park led 24-20 at half, and Thomas had 15 first-half points. The Leopards opened the second half with a 6-0 run including a breakaway dunk by Thomas that pushed the lead to 10 for the first time.

In all, Thomas shot 8 for 14 from the field and 7 for 7 from the foul line.

“Everything that you’ve read or heard about him is true,” DiCenzo said. “His length is really impactful at the high school level. He doesn’t get sped up. It’s hard to stop him.”

Lincoln Park’s other star, junior Brandin Cummings, went scoreless in the first half of a tough shooting night and finished with six points.

Senior Bryce Epps led South Allegheny with 13 points including seven in the fourth quarter. Junior Michael Michalski added 10 points.

Statistically, it was an off night for many shooters. Lincoln Park shot 44% (19 for 43) from the field and South Allegheny made 39% (17 for 43).

“I thought this was a great place to shoot for us,” Bariski said. “Obviously, I was wrong. But you have to give credit to their defense.”

Lincoln Park has averaged 76 points per game, which ranks first in WPIAL 4A.

“We knew we had to play this game in the 50s,” DiCenzo said. “To hold them to 50 points was a really stout defensive effort.”

Adding to the low-scoring night was that South Allegheny didn’t attempt a free throw until there were 43 seconds left in the fourth. Lincoln Park went 12 for 14 from the foul line, including a pair by Cummings in the final seconds.

“Looking back, we needed to go around the basket a little bit more,” DiCenzo said, “just to try to score that way.”

South Allegheny led 13-11 after the first quarter with a pair of early 3s by Epps. But Lincoln Park won the second quarter 13-7 and led 24-20 at half.

There were seven lead changes and two ties in the game’s first 11 minutes. The last lead change came on a putback by Lincoln Park junior Dorian McGhee near the five-minute mark of the second quarter, part of a 7-0 run for the Leopards.

Lincoln Park led 38-31 after three.

South Allegheny cut into that lead early in the fourth with consecutive layups by Epps and Michalski. With about four minutes left, South Allegheny trailed 40-37.

Lincoln Park junior Dontay Green scored only six points but they came at the right time for the Leopards. The 6-5 forward scored three consecutive baskets, each about a minute apart in the fourth quarter.

His last with 90 seconds left gave the Leopards a 48-37 lead. Green was a starter last season, but missed most of this season after foot surgery for a football injury.

“All in all, we were resilient,” Bariski said. “We did what we needed to do.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at or via Twitter .

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