Rowan Carmichael stars again as Avonworth knocks off Montour

Wednesday, February 21, 2024 | 11:37 PM

When Montour beat Avonworth two weeks ago, the Antelopes had a dreadful night shooting the basketball, hitting only 16% from the field in the first half of a 27-point loss.

The shots were falling Wednesday from up close, mid-range and especially from downtown as No. 6 Avonworth took control early and only lost the lead once in defeating No. 3 Montour, 63-56, in the WPIAL Class 4A quarterfinals.

So what was the difference from Feb. 6 to Feb. 21?

“Montour is really tough at home. We knew that going in, and we just weren’t making shots that night,” Avonworth coach Mike Mancuso said. “We knew if we could play our game and do what we do offensively, we’d be in the game, and if we’re in the game, we have a special player that can push us through sometimes.”

That special player is Avonworth junior Rowan Carmichael, who is turning the district playoffs into his personal highlight reel.

After scoring 32 points in a first-round win over Highlands, Carmichael dropped 33 points in the victory over Montour.

Antelopes senior Anthony Arlia led the way offensively in the first half, scoring 10 of his 14 points before handing the baton and the basketball over to Carmichael, who only had six points in the first half but scored 13 in the third quarter and added 14 more in the fourth quarter, including 10 final-quarter free throws.

While the offense carried the day for the Antelopes in the second half, a tenacious half-court defense frustrated the Spartans throughout the night.

“We work on it every day at practice,” Mancuso said. “We start every practice with a defensive drill because that’s what we hang our hat on. We take a lot of pride in our defense. We understand basketball is a tough game to make shots, so if we can play great defense, we’ll be in every game. And if we can shoot well, we’ll win games.”

In the game at Montour, Spartans senior Jake Wolfe and junior Ama Sow combined to score 45 points.

Against that Avonworth defense Wednesday, the two were off and struggled to score a combined 23 points.

“We face guarded Jake because he’s such a talented player,” Mancuso said. “We tried to face guard the big guy (Sow) because you can’t stop him when he hits his mark and he did a lot of damage against us on the glass last time.”

Outside of 6-foot-5 junior Zac Goldfain off the bench, the Antelopes don’t have a lot of size, but they go eight to 10 deep with players cut from the same mold.

“We have one superstar, but the rest of them are very similar,” Mancuso said. “They all can shoot. They all have skill with the basketball in their hands. They pass really well. They cut and move really well. They rebound. They understand the game. Their basketball IQ is really, really good.”

A high IQ on and off the court as Mancuso said his team average GPA is an impressive 4.2.

Montour has its six-game winning stream snapped as the Spartans fell to 20-4 and will now face South Allegheny (17-7) in a consolation bracket game Friday.

Junior Kaleb Platz led the Spartans with 18 points.

Avonworth has now won four straight games and five of its last six as it improved to 17-7 and will battle Hampton in a Class 4A final four game Saturday.

With the top-seeded Avonworth girls basketball team also winning Wednesday to advance to the semifinals, it’s a good time to be an Antelope.

“It’s a special class,” Mancuso said. “Sometimes you get a special class of students come through because in high school sports, it is cyclical. But our group now with the boys and girls is amazing. They are all really tough to beat.”

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