Top-ranked Belle Vernon leaves no doubt, routs Yough

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Tuesday, February 16, 2021 | 9:03 PM


There was no early lead for Yough this time against Belle Vernon, a team that skyrocketed to No. 1 in the WPIAL Class 4A boys basketball rankings and jumped to No. 3 in the state rankings since the last time the teams played.

Forget the notion this might have been a trap game for the high-flying Leopards.

Top-rated Belle Vernon ran its winning streak to 10 as it tightened its defense and brushed aside the visiting Cougars, 78-45, on Tuesday night in Section 3-4A.

Belle Vernon (10-1, 8-0), which held off Yough, 87-71, earlier in the season, raced to a 23-6 lead after the first quarter as junior Daniel Gordon hit back-to-back 3-pointers to kick-start the Leopards on senior night.

The margin swelled to 34-16 by halftime as junior point guard Devin Whitlock got going offensively. He finished with 33 points, including 11 in the third when the Leopards outscored Yough, 27-11.

“We didn’t want to come out slow like we have been doing,” Whitlock said. “We don’t want to let teams hang around us. We’re not going to let up for any team. We treat every team like they’re the No. 2 team. We’re No. 1.”

Belle Vernon soon was on its way to a mercy-ruled win and tied its second-highest point total of the season. Junior Holden LaCarte came off the bench and hit a 3, and Whitlock followed with one of his own to make it 59-25.

It was 61-27 following Whitlock’s tip-in at the end of the third.

In a possible playoff preview — Yough (3-9, 2-6) would need to get the No. 16 or 17 seed and Belle Vernon No. 1 for them to see each other in the first round — the Leopards knew they could not afford a bump in the road with a tournament seeding hanging in the balance.

The WPIAL playoff pairings will be released next Tuesday, and the postseason will begin Feb. 26.

“We have to keep winning if we want to get the highest seed possible,” Belle Vernon coach Joe Salvino said. “We don’t want any letdowns.”

Yough, which also will play in the open tournament as the WPIAL is allowing all teams to enter postseason play this season, struggled to make shots early, and the Leopards made them pay. Defensive pressure forced turnovers in the open court and led to easy baskets.

“Our defense was better tonight,” Salvino said. “With the weather, our kids haven’t played or practiced since Sunday, so I was worried they might be a little groggy. I was surprised to see them play so well early.”

When the teams met in late January in Herminie, Yough matched baskets with the Leopards early and led after the first quarter. But Belle Vernon scored 30 points in the second quarter and won a track meet 87-71.

In that game, Whitlock had 24 points, nine assists and nine steals. Freshman Quinton Martin had a double-double, and Gordon was two steals shy of a triple-double.

Yough freshman Terek Crosby and Martin exchanged dunks that night.

Nobody had a dunk this time, but Whitlock had four 3-pointers and added nine rebounds and seven steals.

Martin finished with 11 points and nine rebounds in his first varsity start. He started in place of Jake Haney, who did not play.

Belle Vernon honored Whitlock before the game for 1,000 career points. Whitlock, who transferred from Monessen after his freshman year, reached the milestone last year.

He has 1,276 points — 789 at Belle Vernon.

Gordon finished with 13 points and seven assists.

For Yough, junior Christian Park scored a team-high 16, including five 3-pointers, and Crosby had 13 points. Park had 10 in the fourth.

Belle Vernon is averaging 70.2 points.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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