Plum boys basketball seeks secret to closing out games

Friday, December 20, 2019 | 6:55 PM

First-year Plum boys basketball coach Mark Marino has been happy with the buy-in level from his players in the early part of the season.

That’s led the Mustangs to be in a lot of games. Now, the next step is to figure out how to close them out.

Aside from double-digit losses to Upper St. Clair and Butler, two of the top teams in Class 6A, Plum has been within 10 points in the fourth quarter of every game this season, but had only won once entering last Friday’s Section 3-5A game at Hampton.

Going forward, the hope for Marino is the team learns from its early-season experiences and can turn some of those close losses into victories.

“Our kids, from Day One, have practiced and fought hard for me. Now, we have to learn how to win,” Marino said. “Last year, they won five games and the year before, they won five or six games. When that happens at your varsity level, you have to have kids learn how to win.”

Plum has had a difficult nonsection slate with a 57-53 loss to perennial Class 3A contender Seton La Salle and a 57-45 loss to Central Catholic at the Peters Township tournament to go along with losses to Butler and Upper St. Clair.

The Mustangs won their section opener 44-40 over Armstrong and played another tight game against Kiski Area but fell, 62-60. The loss to the Cavaliers was another lesson in what’s needed to finish.

Late in the game, the Mustangs had a miscommunication on defense that led to a basket, a breakdown on a zone press break and had a couple of good looks to tie the score rim out.

“When it comes down to the final couple of minutes, we tell our guys that the details matter,” Marino said. “Everything has to be right. We’re learning about that.”

Plum started the season with only one returning letterwinner, Connor Moss, and he has led the team in scoring, including a 27-point effort in the Kiski Area loss. Moss, a junior, is a scoring threat every game and is working to strengthen his all-around game.

“We feel, with his size, he can take advantage of some post-up mismatches,” Marino said. “As he’s moving forward, we’re looking for him to not only continue leading us in scoring, but also become a great rebounder for us and a great defender.”

Marino pointed to junior guard Ta’Rasi Means as a player who has stepped up and gained confidence with each game. The coaching staff likes the athleticism Means has and his ability to drive the lane.

Marino has also gone to the elementary schools with a message for developing players at a younger age. He said he has held clinics for youth coaches and youth player developmental clinics. The Mustangs are hosting a youth tournament in February. The goal is to accelerate skills at a younger age to get more players with strong fundamentals.

“One of the big things that we’re preaching in our program from elementary all the way up the levels as I’m getting out talking to people is that we need kids that can pass, dribble and shoot the basketball,” Marino said. “That’s what we’re looking for.

“If we can get kids regardless of their size to possess all three of those skill sets, that’ll make us a consistent program, instead of every couple of years having a good player.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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