Whitlock’s big second half leads Belle Vernon boys over Jeannette

Friday, December 6, 2019 | 9:17 PM

With Thomas Hepple visible in the corner of his eye, Devin Whitlock caught ball on the break under the basket and saw the play of the game develop seconds before it happened.

Whitlock, the sophomore guard from Belle Vernon, playing his first game since transferring from Monessen, nonchalantly underhanded an alley-oop pass to Hepple, who finished with a dunk.

The out-of-nowhere play, as surprising as it was game-changing, fired up Belle Vernon.

And sunk Jeannette.

Whitlock made a number of dynamic plays, and his second-half energy carried the Leopards to a 75-60 victory over Jeannette on Friday night in the Hempfield Spartan Tip-off Tournament.

Whitlock, who flexed and yelled toward his bench after the big play to Hepple, finished with 25 points and five assists, scoring 15 after halftime.

“I saw him comong down the court,” Whitlock said of the alley-oop to Hepple. “It’s something we do all the time in practice, just playing around. It’s just transitions to the game.”

A game that was tied 32-32 at halftime changed drastically as the Leopards outscored the Jayhawks, 26-11, in the third.

“We rebounded a lot better in the second half, and our defense picked up,” Belle Vernon coach Joe Salvino said. “Devin gave us some energy, and I am happy with how a lot of our guys played their roles. When we win, confidence goes up.”

Jeannette had a 37-36 lead in a back-and-forth game early in the third, but Belle Vernon rattled off 11 straight points, including a three-point play by Whitlock that preceded the alley-oop.

“We’re all playing as a team,” Whitlock said. “I knew a lot of these guys growing up with them.

“I was confident coming into the game today. I go into every game like it’s the same game. I just try and get a ‘W.’ “

Imani Sanders, who had a team-high 15 points for Jeannette, cut the lead to 47-40, but the Leopards went ahead by double figures on a 3-pointer, a steal-and-score and another assist from Whitlock.

“I like to get my teammates involved and get everybody on the board,” Whitlock said. “Get the ball moving around.”

Jeannette struggled to run offensive sets when things started to go south.

“They got a lot of deflections, and that had a lot to do with us,” Jeannette coach Adrian Batts said. “I thought we did a nice job on (Whitlock) early. We controlled him. He’s a very good player, but we stopped competing when we got down six or eight.”

Belle Vernon stretched the margin to 20 early in the fourth and kept attacking the basket and, on the other end, altered Jeannette possessions.

“We didn’t play Jeannette basketball down the stretch,” Batts said. “We were right there, and they took it from us. These games get you ready (for section play). Who is going to be that good in Double-A? This is why you play these games.”

Hepple finished with 12 points and eight rebounds, and Cam Nusser and Hunter Ruokonen had 11 points apiece for the Leopards.

Ruokonen had seven rebounds, and Nusser had six assists.

Toby Cline and Jackson Pruitt scored nine apiece for Jeannette.

The two-day, round-robin tournament concludes Saturday. Jeannette plays McKeesport at 12:30 p.m., and Belle Vernon faces Penn-Trafford at 2.

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

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