Penn Hills relies on trademark defense to oust South Fayette

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Wednesday, March 3, 2021 | 8:16 PM


Eddie Daniels met South Fayette freshman point guard Nate Deanes at mid-court, quickly sliding his feet into better defensive position before seizing an opportunity.

The Penn Hills senior guard punched the ball away from Deanes before gliding for a layup late in the third quarter.

“I notice a lot of people are right-handed,” said Daniels, who scored a game-high 16 points and had two steals. “When they get it in their left hand, it is easy to swipe and I go for the kill.”

On a night where the Indians labored to score during their 60-27 WPIAL Class 5A first-round playoff win Wednesday night at home, Daniels and his teammates stuck to their strength.

Penn Hills — which has the best scoring defense in Class 5A, limiting opponents to 48.4 points per game — made the Lions’ night miserable.

South Fayette shot 24.4% (11 of 45) from the field, including 4 of 18 from the 3-point line. The Lions (9-10) had a hard time getting to the rim and didn’t shoot any free throws in the first half. Charley Rossi led South Fayette with five points.

South Fayette coach Dave Mislan said Penn Hills’ defense is difficult to score on for a multitude of reasons.

“Their length, their athleticism, their experience,” Mislan said. “Playing them here is no joke. They are on a mission.”

The Indians recorded 11 steals and blocked three shots. Chris Giles, who collected his first playoff win as Penn Hills coach, said he can’t take credit for how opportunistic his team is.

“I don’t have to preach that,” Giles said. “I think that’s a natural instinct and how they’ve been playing since they were growing up. I’m more big on being in help-side defense and the fundamentals. The deflections, you can’t teach that. They have natural instincts for that stuff.”

When the game started, Penn Hills (13-4) needed to lean on its defensive instincts. Both teams combined to shoot 3 of 13 from the field during the game’s first 4 minutes, 40 seconds.

“I think it was playoff jitters by both teams,” Giles said. “We had great shots. We didn’t shoot a high percentage. The shots we shot early, a lot of them rimmed in and out. I wanted our kids to remain confident and take the same shots.”

Daemar Kelly put Penn Hills ahead for good, 4-2, with a jumper with 3:20 left. That was the start of a big stretch for the Indians.

Wes Kropp, who scored 15 points, made back to back baskets, sparking the Indians to a 13-3 run to end the quarter. Kelly also finished with 11 points for the Indians.

Penn Hills, despite the slow start, rallied offensively and finished with a 54.2 shooting percentage (26 of 48) from the field.

Daniels was confident the Indians could flip the trend but was happy they could lean on their defense until they found their rhythm.

“Our defense is really the focal point of our offense,” Daniels said. “When we play good defense, we get out in transition and get easy layups and transition threes. It helps us get hyper and play hard.”

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