Role player Riley helps GCC boys basketball grind out win over Hempfield

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Thursday, December 22, 2022 | 10:42 PM


Braden Riley is your prototypical role player.

He takes charges and plays energetic defense. He passes and cuts. He defers to the upper-class players.

But the Greensburg Central Catholic sophomore guard saw an opportunity to be more assertive and help his team win Thursday night.

Riley didn’t score in double figures, but the couple of baskets he had off the bench in the second half helped the Centurions stave off visiting Hempfield, 51-48, in a tight nonsection boys basketball game between neighboring schools.

“We have been struggling offensively, and I knew we needed a bucket,” Riley said. “I’m a role player. I play defense and move the ball. Sometimes, I get the chance to score.”

Senior guard Tyree Turner scored a game-high 24 points, junior forward Franco Alvarez added 10 and Riley had nine for Class 2A GCC (4-3), which had the student section bouncing around and beating a bass drum in a packed gymnasium.

“It was a playoff atmosphere,” Riley said. “It’s a great experience to play against a 6A team.”

Senior guard Harry Sowers led 6A Hempfield (2-5) with 20 points.

The Spartans, who have dropped three straight, were content playing a 2-3 zone, which forced GCC to work for shots.

It was a one-point game at halftime and after three quarters.

Riley beat the third-quarter buzzer to cut Hempfield’s lead to 34-33.

Then, after back-and-forth opening minutes of the fourth, he completed a three-point play with 1 minute, 23 seconds left to put the Centurions up by five for their largest lead of the second half.

“Braden has been playing well lately,” GCC coach Christian Hyland said. “He’s good with the ball in his hands, and he has a good basketball IQ.”

The lead never got above three in the third when there were five lead swings.

Hempfield’s last lead was 37-36.

“We had it where we wanted it,” Hempfield coach Bill Swan said of the halfcourt pace. “I let our kids down with too much zone on out-of-bounds plays. Turner hit some big shots. He was the difference.”

Swan was an assistant at GCC for three years and hadn’t been back to the gym to coach since 2012.

Senior forward Ryan Kimmel, who fouled out, put back a rebound, and Turner hit a deep 3 from the wing to give GCC a 41-37 advantage with 3 minutes, 46 seconds left in the fourth.

“Hempfield kept everything compacted,” Hyland said. “We had to make more passes for shots than I think we ever have. Hempfield plays hard.”

Even after Riley’s and-1, which came off a well-threaded feed from Turner, made it 47-42, Hempfield didn’t go away.

Turner made a free throw for a 48-43 lead, and freshmen Samir Crosby came up with a steal in the open court.

Senior Jaydin Canady made two free throws to make it 50-43 with 23.9 seconds, but Sowers drained a straightaway 3 and it was a four-point game with 11.6 left.

“Harry is just so gutsy,” Swan said.

After another Turner free throw, junior Caden Biondi drove the lane and made a layup with a second left. He was fouled but missed, and time expired.

“This was a grind-it-out-in-the-halfcourt kind of game,” Hyland said. “This is like what you see in the playoffs. Both teams knew everything about the other. There are no surprises. It was just about going out and making plays.”

GCC has won two in a row after back-to-back losses to Latrobe and Riverview, the latter an section-opening stunner that ended 58-54.

Alvarez added eight rebounds, three assists and a block.

Sophomore Max Williams chipped in nine points for Hempfield.

A number of Swan’s former players attended the game and sat behind the Spartans’ bench.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.

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