With defensive identity, Sewickley Academy boys finding rhythm heading into playoffs

Sunday, February 21, 2021 | 9:01 AM

As the WPIAL playoffs approach, Sewickley Academy boys basketball coach Win Palmer is confident with where the Panthers are.

Since the beginning of February, the Panthers (6-7, 3-5) have played No. 3 Springdale, No. 1 Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Shenango, which has won seven of its past 10, and South Side Beaver. Their only win came in a 55-44 victory over the Rams, but Palmer said that his team has shown signs of improvement heading into the final weeks of the season.

“We’re feeling really good ,and we’ve gone out and played a really challenging schedule,” Palmer said. “We’ve played Shenango, who is a top five team in my opinion. We’ve played Springdale, we’ve played OLSH, we got GCC, so in my opinion, we are playing four of the top five teams in four of our last five games, which is a great measuring stick, and we played really well against OLSH.”

All season long, the Chargers (15-0, 10-0) have been running teams over while scoring at an amazing clip. As of Feb. 17, they were averaging a WPIAL-high 76.1 points per game. But, when the Panthers hosted the Chargers, they slowed the game down.

OLSH led 7-5 after one quarter and 20-16 at halftime. The defending WPIAL Class 2A champions pulled away in the second half at the free-throw line as the Chargers hit 16 of 17 to win, 45-29.

“We played really well against OLSH, and I think it kind of got lost somehow,” Palmer said. “They are a fantastic basketball team, and we did a great job against them. So, I feel like that we’ve learned that we can play different styles to be successful.”

On that night at home, the Panthers utilized a deliberate game plan, but they also showed a strong defensive effort, which has become somewhat of their calling card this season. OLSH’s 45-point effort was their lowest scoring total of the season by 23 points.

In total, the Panthers have allowed 49.4 points per game, and only five teams have scored 50 or more points on them this season.

“Defense is really our strength at this point in the year,” Palmer said. “Our guys are gritty, they make it really tough for people to score, and I’m amazed about it because we’re normally giving away three to four inches and 20 or 30 pounds to some guys. There is just a collective will, and these guys realize that defense is our bread and butter.”

In a way, Sewickley Academy’s matchup against OLSH was the perfect mixture of how they want to play down the stretch. They want to put together a strong performance on the defensive end, and offensively, they want to look for the right shot. Palmer said they are starting to understand that mindset.”

“Offensively, we’re patient,” Palmer said. “Guys are understanding how to get open shots and not just take the first look but keep moving the basketball to get better looks, and that takes a lot of discipline. I’m just really proud of the ways our guys have accepted the strengths we have while minimizing the weaknesses we have and play really good team basketball.”

When the Panthers came back from Gov. Tom Wolf’s three-week shutdown in December, Palmer stressed the importance of being able to hit their peak at the right time.

With the WPIAL moving to an open playoff tournament, there was no rush to find their peak form, but as the postseason approaches, Palmer believes that the Panthers are starting to do just that.

“I think we are playing really good basketball. I really do, and it’s kind of ironic because we lost twice,” Palmer said. “We lost to a really good team on the road in Shenango, and we lost to a really good team at home, and both of those games were battles. So, I think we are really coming in prepared, and I think the biggest challenge is for our guys not to look at those two games in terms of wins and losses but in terms of evaluation of play.”

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@triblive.com or via Twitter .


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