With Pitt coach watching, Aliquippa football stars hit basketball stride to defeat Shenango

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Thursday, January 19, 2023 | 2:07 AM


Pitt football coach Pat Narduzzi was sitting among the home fans in Aliquippa’s gym Wednesday night, there with dozens of others to watch a group of football players throw around a basketball.

Sometimes there’s a linebacker, a safety, a running back, a tight end and maybe a lineman on the court together. The winter transition from one sport to the other is rarely easy, but the Quips say this one was taking longer than most.

Yet, it might finally be basketball season.

Aliquippa junior Cameron Lindsey scored a game-high 22 points, teammate Jayace Williams added 14 and the top-ranked Quips controlled the paint to defeat No. 5 Shenango, 60-45, breaking a first-place tie in the section. More importantly for the Quips, coach Nick Lackovich saw a basketball team on the rise.

He maybe wouldn’t have said that a few days ago.

“This was probably our most complete game to date,” Lackovich said. “We’re still kind of a work in progress, but today was a real big step forward.”

In fact, before Wednesday’s game he’d questioned the team’s focus, even though the Quips (8-4, 5-0) are ranked first in WPIAL Class 2A. They were coming off two tough losses at the MLK Hoops for Harmony showcase in Chambersburg, so Lackovich wasn’t convinced they were locked in.

“This is the first team I’ve ever had that I just can’t get read on,” he said, sharing what he‘d told his team. “I don’t know if you’ve leveled off. I don’t know if there’s another gear. I don’t know. You guys are not like my other teams. My other teams, even though they were football players, they came to work.”

The Quips found another gear this game.

Shenango (10-3, 4-1) matched Aliquippa shot for shot in the first 3 minutes, but the Quips took the lead with a 12-0 run late in the first quarter. The Wildcats went more than 4 minutes without a point and never regained the lead. A last-second basket by Lindsey gave the Quips a 23-12 lead after the first quarter.

“I think we’re starting to get back to it now,” Lindsey said. “The mistakes that we made early (in the season) were maybe because of transitioning, but I feel now we’re starting to clear up.”

Shenango’s problems were in the paint.

The Wildcats were out-rebounded 8-3 in the first quarter and 14-6 in the first half despite a couple of big bodies in the lineup. They also had trouble keeping Aliquippa’s scorers away from the rim.

“(The game plan) was exactly what didn’t happen,” Shenango coach Bob McQuiston said. “We wanted to force them to take outside shots and keep them out of the paint, and we needed to rebound.”

Brody McQuistan led Shenango with 19 points and Braden Zeigler added 13, but the team overall didn’t shoot well. The Wildcats went 6 for 25 from 3-point range, an off night for a team that averages around 10 or 11.

“Every shot we took was contested,” Bob McQuiston said. “We didn’t have a lot of open looks. Credit to their defense. I don’t think we did a good job of setting up screens or setting screens.”

The teams rematch Feb. 10 at Shenango.

Aliquippa attempted only six 3-pointers and made one. Instead they relied on layups from Lindsey and Williams, who shot 12 for 19 combined.

As a team, the Quips went 21 for 36 on shots inside the arc.

Those baskets let Aliquippa push a 10-point halftime lead to 18 late in the third quarter. The lead peaked at 20 points early in the fourth on a pair of Lindsey free throws. As a highly recruited linebacker with a Pitt offer, Lindsey was one of the players Narduzzi was there to see.

It’s not uncommon to spot college football coaches in the Aliquippa crowd.

“I kind of welcome it, because it really gets these guys going,” Lackovich said. “They want to do better. They want to play harder. That’s a good thing. Anything to get them to play harder, I’m all for it.”

Senior Donovan Walker, an uncommitted safety with a list of college offers, is one of the basketball team’s top players. Sophomore running back Tiqwai Hayes, another major-college recruit, is one of the team’s top players off the bench.

Yet, after a 14-game football season, the transition to another sport isn’t automatic.

“The conditioning is very different from football,” Lindsey said. “At least in football, you get a 25- to 40-second break. Basketball is a lot more constant. It definitely takes some time to get used to.”

But Lindsey said they’re getting close.

The entire Aliquippa starting lineup and everyone Lackovich used off the bench Wednesday was part of the Quips football team that reached the state finals last month. With only two non-football players on the basketball roster, the team couldn’t do much in the summer or fall.

It’s a familiar dilemma for Lackovich.

“I think we’re in decent enough shape,” he said. “We’ll get in better shape, but a lot of it is chemistry. The guys are getting that now.”

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.

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