Trib HSSN Boys Basketball Team of the Week: Moon

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Sunday, March 24, 2019 | 10:13 PM


The Trib HSSN Team of the Week suffered heartbreak at the WPIAL finals only to bounce back with five consecutive wins in the PIAA playoffs and earn a state championship, as we salute the Moon Tigers.

All losses hurt, but when you lose a big double-digit second-half lead in the district championship game on a buzzer beater, that’s an 11 on a scale of 1-10.

That is what happened to Moon in the WPIAL Class 5A boys’ basketball title game when Andrew Recchia’s 3-point buzzer-beater gave Mars the big comeback win and a second consecutive district crown 58-56.

“You never want to lose a playoff game because it’s an opportunity to win a championship,” Moon coach Adam Kaufman said. “Those chances should never be undervalued because they don’t come along very often. However, if we had to lose that game the way we did to get to the point we are at right now, then it was worth the disappointment.

Fast forward 17 days and three state playoff wins later, and Moon is facing Mars on March 18 for a berth in the PIAA finals.

This time, Moon jumped to a big lead and kept adding on to make sure there would be no out-of-this-world comeback by the Fightin’ Planets as the Tigers prevailed 73-55.

“I thought that in the first game against Mars they were the more composed and patient team,” Kaufman said. “I felt that our team forced some shots and wasted too many possessions, which allowed them to find an offensive rhythm. They are too good of a team to give them chances like that, and to their credit they took advantage and beat us.”

Leading the way for Moon in the semifinals victory was junior Donovan Johnson, who had a game-high 28 points.

“He was just very efficient, as usual,” Kaufman said. “He’s done that all year for us and hasn’t disappointed at all.”

With the revenge game in the rear-view mirror, Kaufman said Moon was relaxed and confident headed into the PIAA 5A title game against District 12 champion Archbishop Wood.

“We have a very veteran team, and they like to play together, so being loose and confident hasn’t been a problem much this year,” he said. “I was proud of them for their approach throughout the playoffs and how they paid attention to details and executed together in some tough games and environments.”

In the finals, the role was reversed. After trailing by two points at halftime, Archbishop Wood outscored Moon, 28-19, in a big third quarter. The Tigers trailed by seven heading into the final 8 minutes.

Moon turned the tables and outscored the Vikings, 30-13, behind a huge quarter from Connor Ryan. The senior hit on 8 of 11 from the field and was 10 of 12 from the foul line for a game-high 28 points.

“Connor’s, and the rest of the team’s desire to win that game showed,” Kaufman said, “especially in the fourth quarter when we got down. I thought our leadership and veteran presence really showed when it mattered most.

“They picked each other up, didn’t hang their heads, and went to work.”

Johnson added 17 points for Moon, and Taru Jones scored 13 points and Jioni Smith and Connor’s brother Austin Ryan each scored eight points in the Tigers’ 74-64 triumph. The state championship is the second for Moon (28-2), which also won a PIAA crown in 2004.

Kaufman said balance was a big part of the Tigers’ tale all season.

“We’ve had a lot of different guys step up at crucial times, and not just with their scoring or making shots. I think Jioni got better as the year went on, and played some of his best games in the playoffs, controlling everything for us. Taru played the best game of his season in the state championship. Tre Carter and Devontae Humphries gave us invaluable minutes throughout the season, and especially in the PIAA tournament. It was a remarkable team effort, and that’s what makes it special.”

Don Rebel hosts the Rebel Yell podcasts for HSSN.

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