No. 4 Upper St. Clair boosts playoff stock with 26-point win at No. 3 Mt. Lebanon
By: Chris Harlan
Tuesday, February 5, 2019 | 10:27 PM
Upper St. Clair gave the WPIAL basketball committee more to think about in Class 6A.
Tanner Gensler, Luke Gensler and David Pantelis scored 18 points apiece Tuesday night as fourth-ranked USC defeated third-ranked Mt. Lebanon, 71-45, bolstering the Panthers’ playoff hopes with less than a week left in the regular season.
Mt. Lebanon (17-3, 9-1) already had the Section 2 title clinched and could’ve rightfully argued for a top-two seed, making this 26-point loss at home surprising.
On this night, Upper St. Clair (19-2, 8-2) was that team that looked most like a title contender.
“They played harder than we did and they competed harder than we did,” Mt. Lebanon coach Joe David said. “They’re a good basketball team, they’re well-coached and we didn’t have a very good night.”
Mt. Lebanon won 56-46 when the rivals met Jan. 15 at Upper St. Clair. But USC used an aggressive get-to-the-basket approach in the rematch to lead 17-15 after one quarter, 33-25 at half and 48-33 after three.
“We took the energy from the loss last time and put it all into this game,” USC’s Luke Gensler said. “It really gave us that confidence and edge to really put them away early.”
Mt. Lebanon’s swarming defense can make opponents hesitant with the ball, a tendency that hurt USC in last month’s matchup. So this time, whenever the Panthers broke Lebo’s trap, they attacked the rim.
“They do such a good job of trapping people and taking you out of your offense,” USC coach Danny Holzer said. “We wanted to find a way to offset that. We felt like we have enough ball-handlers and guys who can score around the basket to aggressively score and attack.
“When we got out of the traps, we weren’t going to pass it or jack threes, we were going to drive it.”
Boosted by a couple of dozen layups, the Panthers shot 63 percent from the field.
Pantelis led USC’s early effort with 14 first-half points including the final four in the first quarter and the last seven points just before halftime. With USC ahead by one, the senior made a driving layup, a put-back basket and a 3-pointer to lead 33-25 at half.
“Tonight we were a little more confident,” USC senior Chris Pantelis said. “We felt that we were better prepared this time around. … The loss last time at our place really sparked something in us. We felt we needed to get back at them.”
USC ended the third quarter with a 15-point lead, but stayed aggressive and steadily pushed the gap beyond 20. The Panthers won the fourth quarter 23-12.
“I knew it was not over at 15 or 20,” USC senior Tanner Gensler said. “We had to keep it going because I knew they were going to try to come back at some point. They did make a couple of pushes but our ability to break the press really helped.”
The win certainly bolsters USC’s case for a possible top four seed when the WPIAL basketball committee arranges the brackets next Monday. Second-place teams Butler (15-4, 8-2) and Fox Chapel (13-6, 8-2) also have two section losses.
Mt. Lebanon took an early 12-5 lead with consecutive 3-pointers from Jake Hoffman and Blaine Gartley, but the team’s outside shots stopped falling. The Blue Devils went 3 for 23 from the 3-point line and 18 for 47 (38 percent) from the floor overall.
USC went 6 for 14 from 3-point range led by Luke Gensler with four 3s.
Hoffman led Mt. Lebanon with 11 points and three teammates scored 10.
“How we come out of this (loss) will be important,” David said. “If it makes us better and refocuses out, maybe it’s just what the doctor ordered. I’ve been around long enough to see it.
“I just told them about the time we beat Villanova by 20 in the fieldhouse (in 1984-85),” added the former Pitt basketball player, “and Villanova went on to win the national championship. Sometimes it happens that way.”
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.