Upper St. Clair clamps down on defense to knock off Mt. Lebanon

Tuesday, January 9, 2024 | 11:02 PM

If defense wins championships, then the Upper St. Clair boys basketball team earned their Class 6A contender card Tuesday.

The Panthers played a stifling half-court defense in shutting down and beating top-ranked Mt. Lebanon, 44-39.

“Our defense was spectacular,” Upper St. Clair coach Danny Holzer said. “Mt. Lebanon is so good. They have so many good players and they run great stuff and they’re a championship team, but we just played such good half-court defense.”

The Blue Devils came into the game averaging over 67 points per game, but their offense never found a grove as they were limited to only 17 first-half points and only had a short-lived lead late in the third quarter.

“They turned us over constantly and we really weren’t shooting the ball particularly well, but our defense was just awesome,” Holzer said. “Our guys were just locked in. I told them, for us to win, we have got to play really, really good half-court defense and limit their open looks because they have so many deadly weapons and I think we did that. It was the only way we were going to beat them.”

The game was close throughout as Mt. Lebanon also cranked things up on the defensive side of the ball.

The Blue Devils defense forced 22 turnovers while the Mt. Lebanon offense turned the ball over 13 times.

USC led 15-9 after the first quarter and built the game’s only double-digit advantage two minutes into the second quarter when it scored the first five points to make it 20-9.

Mt. Lebanon senior Riley Farabaugh and sophomore Liam Sheely each scored five points in the third quarter as the Blue Devils grabbed a quick lead, then entered the final quarter trailing 30-27.

Upper St. Clair senior Brett Meinert took over in the fourth quarter, hitting two field goals, a big 3-pointer and two free throws as the Panthers took control down the stretch.

“He’s so solid. What a great kid,” Holzer said of Meinert. “He’s worked so hard and waited his turn. We call him a program player because he’s a senior and now getting an opportunity and he’s taking advantage, especially on a stage like this where it doesn’t get much bigger in the regular season.”

Sheely led the Blue Devils with 16 points while Farabaugh added 11 points.

Mt. Lebanon drops to 2-1 in the section and 10-2 overall with its first loss against a WPIAL opponent.

Meinert was the lone Panthers player to score in double digits with 14 points.

Another key to the USC win was the work on the glass as juniors Tyler Robbins and Kaamil Jackson combined for 23 rebounds.

The win is the sixth straight for Upper St. Clair, which is now alone atop Section 2-6A with a 3-0 record and 9-3 overall mark.

“This means a lot because it’s a section win and it was against the best team in 6A,” Holzer said. “We’re a young team with only two seniors, so it means a lot. Other than Julian Dahlem, this is the first time these guys have been in this kind of environment and they responded. It’s one game, but it means a heck of a lot.”

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