No. 4 Mt. Lebanon boys take down No. 2 Upper St. Clair in Section 2-6A clash

Tuesday, January 15, 2019 | 10:12 PM

There was no letdown.

Fresh off a dramatic home victory Friday, the WPIAL Class 6A No. 4 Mt. Lebanon Blue Devils went on the road and defeated previously-unbeaten and second-ranked Upper St. Clair, 56-46, before a packed gym at Upper St. Clair High School Tuesday in Section 2 action.

Mt. Lebanon (13-2, 5-0) snapped Peters Township’s eight-game winning streak Friday and ended Upper St. Clair’s 13-game streak Tuesday to take over first place from USC (4-1, 13-1).

“We tried to put that (Peters Township) win behind us,” said Lebo senior Hayden Mitchell, who scored 14 points on the strength of three 3-pointers. “We felt like we didn’t play our best game Friday, and I feel like we came out tonight with more energy and better focus, and I think that showed, especially in the second half.”

Sean Loughran scored 16 to lead Mt. Lebanon, and point guard Blaine Gartley also chipped in 14 in a balanced effort. Leading scorer Jake Hoffman had just six points, but came up with several key rebounds in the fourth quarter to help the Blue Devils secure the victory.

“It’s a bunch of guys who are playing for the front of the chest,” Mt. Lebanon coach Joe David said. “Those are game-winning plays, and (Hoffman) is just as happy as anybody in that locker room. And it’s a pleasure of coaching a group of guys that have that attitude.”

The grind-it-out victory was a change in style from Lebo’s preferred up-tempo pace. The Blue Devils’ 56 points was their lowest scoring output of the season.

“I’ll take a track meet if I can get a track meet, but this game called for different things,” David said. “We didn’t make many shots, we turned the ball over uncharacteristically in the first half, and that made a big difference.”

The Blue Devils led 35-34 entering the fourth, and opened the final quarter on an 8-2 run as Gartley’s 3-pointer at 5:35 gave Lebo its largest lead of the game at 43-36.

“We’ve been working a lot on our man-to-man, half-court (defense),” Mitchell said. “We play a lot of up-and-down, trapping, but with the flow of the game it turned out to be a slower game. We knew we had to guard the gaps and help and do everything we needed to do to execute on defense.”

The lead never dipped below five points the rest of the way as the Blue Devils shot 9 of 12 from the free throw line in the final 2 minutes, 25 seconds.

“They have a lot of good perimeter players, so you have to try to stay in front of them and try to minimize their open looks,” USC coach Danny Holzer said. “I thought we did a pretty good job of that. We just, in the fourth quarter, when we needed to make hoops we just couldn’t finish when we needed to.”

USC’s Tanner Gensler led all scorers with 20 points, but was the only Panthers player in double figures.

The teams were knotted 25-25 at the break, and the game remained tight in a low-scoring third with Lebo leading 35-34 after three quarters of play.

“I thought we really gutted it out, and I think we were really gritty defensively,” Holzer said. “Mt. Lebanon is a really good offensive team, and I felt like we took them out of their initial stuff. But they shoot the ball really well, and they make you pay when you make mistakes. I think the difference was them making shots better than we did, especially in the fourth quarter.”

Mt. Lebanon connected for four 3-pointers in the second quarter, two of which came from Mitchell. Nevertheless, a steal and layup at the buzzer from USC’s David Pantelis resulted in a 25-25 tie at the half.

Gartley opened the third quarter with a 3-pointer and the Blue Devils never trailed again.

“We’re just playing for each other, really, and for our school,” Mitchell said. “It’s never about how many points each person has, and it’s always been like that with our team, and I think that’s part of our success in general.”

Jesse Geleynse is a freelance writer.

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