Whitlock’s return to Monessen successful as Belle Vernon rolls to win

Saturday, January 18, 2020 | 7:06 PM

Devin Whitlock might not have had Saturday’s nonsection game with Monessen circled on his calendar, but it was certainly on his mind.

The Belle Vernon sophomore returned to the gym at Monessen for the first time since transferring last spring and put on a show, scoring a game-high 23 points to lead the Leopards to a convincing 78-50 victory — their fifth straight win.

“I take every game one by one, but this was a game I was looking forward to playing,” said Whitlock, who added there was a little bit of pressure returning to Monessen after helping to lead the Greyhounds to the WPIAL and PIAA semifinals last season.

“It was exciting, and I had a lot of fun playing with my old teammates. It was a nice game to come back, and I felt really comfortable.”

Whitlock, who scored 10 points by halftime, led a balanced scoring attack for the Leopards (12-4) as all five of their starters finished in double figures.

Cam Nusser finished with 14 points and 10 assists. Mitch Pohlot had 12 points, and Jared Hartman and Hunter Ruokonen each picked up 10.

Pohlot and Hartman also collected eight rebounds apiece. Ruokonen added seven steals in a game in which Monessen (5-9) committed 24 turnovers.

“That’s when we do our best, when everyone is involved in the game,” Whitlock said.

Whitlock wasn’t the only former Greyhound to come back to Monessen’s gym Saturday.

Second-year BVA coach Joe Salvino returned to Monessen for the first time since being hired at Belle Vernon in May 2018.

Salvino won six WPIAL championships and two state titles in more three decades with the Greyhounds.

“I didn’t look at this game this year like I looked at it last year,” said Salvino, who won close to 650 games as coach at Monessen. “Monessen, to me, was just another team that we had to play. This year, I just made it another game.”

The Leopards rolled right out of the gates, firing on all cylinders as they held an 11-3 lead three minutes into the game. Whitlock scored six points during the early spurt.

Monessen was able to trim its deficit to six after scoring four of the next six points on a jumper by Marquell Smith and a layup by Dawayne Howell. The duo scored 19 and 16 points, respectively, to lead the way for the Greyhounds.

BVA responded quickly with shots from beyond the arc as Ruokonen hit a corner 3 before Nusser also made a 3 to make it 19-7.

After a layup by Howell cut it to 10 with 31 seconds left, Jared Hartman hit a corner trey of his own before Whitlock went 2 for 2 from the free throw line to give BVA a 24-9 advantage after one quarter.

The Leopards’ pressure defense gave the Greyhounds fits, especially in the opening eight minutes as Monessen committed 11 turnovers during that span.

“We did a good job with the press and got some transition points, which got everything moving,” Salvino said. “I think the pressure bothered them somewhat, and I thought we did well with that.”

Monessen committed only five turnovers in the second quarter, but the Leopards continued to pull away thanks to a stingy defensive effort. A 9-2 surge to open the quarter gave BVA a 33-11 edge with 3:56 to go in the first half.

“We didn’t get to our spots and dribbled through the trap a lot of times. That obviously hurt us early on and continued to hurt us until we did those things correctly,” Monessen coach Dan Bosnic said. “We were bothered by their trap and we struggle offensively, and we know that. On the back side, we didn’t do the things we needed to do defensively to give us any opportunities or any chances that we needed in the game.”

Monessen responded by scoring six straight points to cut its deficit to 16, but a pair of Jake Haney 3-pointers kick-started a 10-1 run in the final 2:10 that gave the Leopards a 43-18 lead by halftime.

The Greyhounds had more success on the offensive end in the second half. Smith was a leading spark in the final 16 minutes, scoring 16 of his points. Carleton Jones also scored six of his 10 points in the second half.

“It was just about getting into spots and being able to be patient, reverse the basketball, get through the middle and attack what they were trying to do to us defensively,” Bosnic said.

Belle Vernon resumes Section 3-4A play at Waynesburg on Tuesday. Monessen, which saw its four-game winning streak come to an end, will travel to Jefferson-Morgan for a Section 2-A matchup.

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