Uniontown batters Belle Vernon, looks like team to beat in section

Friday, January 3, 2020 | 11:16 PM

The Belle Vernon boys basketball team has made long strides in the second year of head coach Joe Salvino’s tenure on the bench. However, Friday night at Uniontown, the Leopards found out they still have some growing to do in order to contend with the defending section champs.

The Red Raiders (2-0, 7-1) came off a week layoff looking as if they are not ready to relinquish the Class 4A-Section 2 crown, beating Belle Vernon, 81-54.

Four players scored in double figures for the hosts led by Billy DeShields, Isaiah Melvin and Ray Robinson’s 17 points each. Billy’s freshman brother Keondre added 10 off the bench for Uniontown.

While Salvino was not happy with his team’s performance, Red Raider coach Robert Kezmarsky was very complimentary of the Leps’ play. Last year, Uniontown dismantled Belle Vernon in their two meetings by a combined 93 points.

“Belle Vernon is a much improved team,” said Kezmarsky. “(Devin) Whitlock is a tremendous player and his transfer into Belle Vernon makes them a lot better. But (Cam) Nusser and Mitch Pohlot have improved so much.”

Despite the improvement, BVA (1-1, 7-4) could not contend with the Red Raiders’ athleticism and prowess on the boards.

“Uniontown is a very athletic team, and when you give them second and third chances, it’s tough,” said Salvino. “We didn’t rebound all that great in the first half. Until we learn to put a body on someone and rebound, then those things are going to happen.

“You can’t let them run like that. You’ve got to be able to stop them. In the third quarter, we created seven turnovers and they still outscored us.”

“I thought the key in the game, which we talked about for two weeks, was defensively rebounding the basketball,” said Kezmarsky. “In the first half, we did a great job with that.”

BVA struggled most of the night from the field, hitting only 33% (21 of 63). The Red Raiders defense made it tough for the Leopards to get good looks and made them force some bad shots.

“We didn’t run our offense really well tonight,” said Salvino. “I think we got frustrated because we weren’t scoring and some of us tried to do a little too much. We rushed a lot of shots, but that’s the nature of the game, I guess.”

Uniontown came out firing, hitting on five of its first seven shots. The Red Raiders led 13-2 after a three from Melvin at the 4:55 mark of the first quarter. But Whitlock and Nusser combined to help BVA go on an 11-3 run, moving the Leps within three at 16-13.

However, Uniontown scored two buckets in the final minute, making it 20-13 after the first eight quarter. The Red Raiders continued that run into the second quarter. Thanks in part to back-to-back treys by Robinson, the hosts led 35-18 at the halfway mark of the frame.

Pohlot tried to rally the Leopards late in the half, scoring seven points in just over a minute. But he picked up his third foul late in the quarter and was a non-factor the rest of the way. Uniontown carried a commanding 46-29 lead into the locker room and Belle Vernon never got within 15 from there.

With athletes all over the floor and a balanced scoring attack, Uniontown is going to be a tough matchup for anybody in Class 4A.

“We’re past the point where our players want to score big. We just want to win,” said Kezmarsky. “When you leave here, you just want to be 2-0. They’re athletic, but they are also basketball players too. We can win different styles of the game.”

Whitlock led the Leps with 11 while Nusser and Thomas Hepple each had 10 points.

Section play continues for both teams on Tuesday as Belle Vernon hosts South Park and Uniontown visits Ringgold.

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