Union surges past Monessen to set up another meeting with Imani Christian

Wednesday, February 21, 2024 | 9:58 PM

The No. 4 Monessen boys basketball team played solid defense in the first 16 minutes of action in its WPIAL Class A quarterfinal matchup with No. 5 Union on Wednesday night.

But the Scotties’ two-headed scoring monster is hard to stop for a full 32 minutes.

The duo of Lucas Stanley (35) and Braylon Thomas (17) could not be contained, as Union posted 46 points in the second half en route to a 70-58 victory over Monessen at Peters Township’s AHN Arena.

The Scotties (14-10) improved to 6-3 in the quarterfinals since 2016 and are looking for their third straight appearance in the championship game. Union will play top seed Imani Christian in the semifinals Saturday with a site and time to be determined.

“We made a couple of big shots in the second half and our offense got on a couple of runs,” Union coach Mark Stanley said. “Monessen is a very good team, and we had our work cut out for us tonight. I thought both defenses came to play and controlled things early on.”

Union, which won its only district title in 2003, lost to Imani in last year’s WPIAL finals and PIAA semifinals.

The Greyhounds (18-5) could not keep up the scoring in the second half, despite flexing their defensive muscles in the first half. Lorenzo Gardner, the school’s second-leading scorer all-time with more than 1,600 points, was limited to just 15 points.

Despite the output by Gardner, his teammates picked up their play and were consistent threats on the offensive end. Rodney Johnson scored a team-high 19 points, while Devontae Robinson tallied 13 and Tyvaughn Kershaw added seven.

“I thought our kids competed,” Monessen coach Dan Bosnic said. “Our guys brought the right focus and were engaged into the game plan from the opening tip. They got on more runs than us in that second half. They had a couple of long shots that went down in that third quarter. That is a team that can make shots in the crunch time.”

Monessen, which drops to 8-7 in the quarterfinal round since 2007, was looking for its first semifinal appearance since 2019. The Greyhounds will try to reset and bounce back in the first round of the consolation bracket against section foe West Greene on Friday.

“This game is a lot closer than what the final score would indicate,” Bosnic said. “Our team takes a lot of positives out of this game and we will be ready for Friday. It is a quick turnaround, but our main message is that we want to play good basketball against whoever we face and we want to make a run to the state tournament.”

The teams split their Section 2-A meetings this season with the away team prevailing in both games.

After Monessen held a 27-24 edge at intermission, Union responded with seven of the first 10 points of the third frame. A mid-range jumper by Kershaw gave the Greyhounds a 32-31 lead, but the Scotties answered back with a 13-2 spree.

Thomas, Rocco Galmarini and Andrew Gettings all had treys in the run, as Galmarini scored eight of his nine points in the third.

The Greyhounds closed out the third on a 6-2 rally and then made it a one-possession game, 50-47, after a bucket by Robinson at the halfway mark of the fourth quarter.

Despite the late push by Monessen, Union was able to keep its composure with a quick 12-4 run that extended the lead to 62-51 with under a minute to go in regulation.

The Scotties closed out the game with an 8-for-12 performance at the foul line in the final minute to eliminate any hopes of a comeback by the pesky Greyhounds.

“Our guys have a lot of poise on the court and they don’t get rattled out there,” coach Stanley said. “I thought we got better as the game went along. Slowing down (Gardner) was so important for our defense. We had to make him work for every hoop. He is so good around the rim, so we had to locate him and try to front him as much as we could.”

Monessen opened the game with the first four points with a fast-break layup by Kershaw and two free throws by Johnson.

After a basket by Union, the Greyhounds extended its lead to 8-2 after a hoop by Devontae Robinson and foul shots by Gardner and Kershaw.

The Scotties found their shooting touch in the second half of the opening quarter, ending the first with a 9-2 spree. Union led 11-10 at the end of one, and all 11 were scored by Lucas Stanley.

With Monessen trailing 16-14 in the early stages of the second, Gardner grabbed his first basket of the night at the 5:36 mark to knot things up.

After Union got separation with an 8-4 rally that pushed its lead to 24-20, Monessen garnered the final seven points of the second half for a 27-24 halftime advantage.

“Our defensive effort was really good in that first half,” Bosnic said. “We wanted to shut down their secondary scorers and just keep everything in front of us. They never got rolling in that first half and we always answered their run with one of our own. They gave us some different looks with guarding Lorenzo, but our guys made the adjustments and we made some plays.”

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