Penn Hills boys hitting stride as playoffs approach

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Thursday, February 6, 2020 | 7:25 PM


At the beginning of the season, Penn Hills boys basketball coach Dan DeRose knew what type of offense he was going to have this season but wasn’t sure how his defense would look.

Late in the season, DeRose and the Indians feel like they’ve figured out the defensive end just in time for a potential deep WPIAL playoff run. Most recently, the No. 2 Indians (16-4, 10-1) clinched a Section 1-5A title with a statement win at No. 4 McKeesport as they won, 82-48, on Feb. 4.

“I’ve liked how we’ve finished the last couple of games by winning them by a pretty big margin,” DeRose said. “I thought our effort, our intensity, our energy and not being selfish has picked up to where it was during the season. I think it’s the right time to get it right as we head into the playoffs.”

In the win, senior point guard Kyree Hairston-Mitchell led the Indians with 25 points and 10 assists. Junior forward Wes Kropp finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds, while freshman guard/forward Daemar Kelly recorded his second-straight double-double with 12 points and 14 rebounds.

Junior guard Ed Daniels finished with 22 points.

“We’re on the road with the section the line. If McKeesport beats us, we end up tied for the section,” DeRose said. “To perform the way we did showed me a lot about the team. They can be ready for a big moment and they were fearless. They took the challenge on.”

DeRose believes he has found something as he has inserted senior forward Eddie McKissick into the starting lineup to provide some toughness and physicality into the lineup.

In the win against McKeesport, McKissick nearly finished with a double-double with eight points and 11 rebounds.

“He has just dominated the boards these last few games,” DeRose said. “He comes out of nowhere on the offensive and defensive ends. He understands the other guys are better offensively. I don’t have to worry about him being a liability on the offensive end by taking bad shots when he’s not worried about scoring.”

The Indians have won a share of the section title in four of the five years under DeRose. Penn Hills won the WPIAL title the only year they didn’t win the section title in 2018.

Kropp leads the Indians through 20 games with 15.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg and 1.5 blocks per game, while Hairston-Mitchell is second with 15.5 ppg, 6.4 apg and 5.0 rpg. The Indians have two others averaging double figures — Daniels (12.9 ppg) and junior Deondre Mitchell (10.5).

The Indians remain one of the top scoring teams in the WPIAL as they rank second behind Trinity in the Class 5A with 72.4 ppg. The Indians hold their opponents to 57.8 ppg.

“The defense got better,” DeRose said. “We controlled the boards. If we don’t score, we can’t press. We started to get turnovers, getting layups and controlling the boards. We played as fast and as hard as we could play (against McKeesport).

“We’ve really rebounded the ball really well the last few games. We were taking a lot of better shots. I thought we were being selfish by taking a lot of jump shots in previous games.”

With their spot in the WPIAL playoffs locked up, DeRose understands how the Indians’ season can come to an abrupt close if they don’t continue to bring the intensity every game in the playoffs.

“The kids are excited and ready to go,” he said. “I like our chances, but as much as I think we could win this is as easy as I think we can get beat in the first round. I think it’s going to be a tough tournament since I think the bottom teams are competitive and can beat anybody.”

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