Neumann rallies to down Sullivan in district final
MONTOURSVILLE - St. John Neumann shook off its worst half of basketball all season and rallied to knock off Sullivan County for the third time this season, 37-32, in the District 4, Class A boys basketball championship game.
"For whatever reason this year, they've had our number," said Sullivan County coach Glenn Vaughan "All three games were pretty competitive.
"Tonight, they just had kids step up and make big plays when it really mattered," he added.
The Golden Knights also avenged a loss to the Griffins in last year's District 4 finals.
St. John Neumann coach Paul Petcavage said his team may have gotten caught up in the moment in the opening 16 minutes of the contest.
"It was definitely the poorest half of basketball we've played all year.
"We came out and we were just cranking shots," said Petcavage. "We weren't patient.
"It probably had to do with the atmosphere, but yeah, the first half was definitely not a pretty picture," he added.
Sullivan County used a 9-1 run, fueled by a pair of driving runners and two free throws from Kelby Miller, to take a 9-3 lead with 3:36 left in the first quarter.
The Griffins extended their lead to 13-4 on a 15-foot jumper by Zach Meyer with 50 seconds remaining in the first quarter, but missed on several chances to build on their lead while holding Neumann without a field goal for more than 6 1/2 minutes.
Neumann's Ryan Reid scored on a short jumper in the lane with 30 seconds left in the quarter to cut the deficit to 13-6.
The Golden Knights scored back-to-back buckets to slice the deficit to 15-10 with 4:54 remaining in the second quarter, but they didn't score again in the half.
Sullivan's Derek Wilkins drained a 3-pointer with 4:05 left in the third quarter and added a short jumper in the low blocks about 90 seconds later to make it 20-10.
The Griffins had several opportunities to increase their lead, but didn't capitalize.
Vaughan pointed to those missed chances after the game.
"I felt in the first half we blew some opportunities. We were up 10 at the half, but I felt like we could have been up by a lot more," he said.
The Griffins upped their lead to 21-10 in the opening seconds of the second half on a free throw by Lucas Colton, but Neumann's Jordon Cole shook free and knocked down a pair of 3-pointers to trigger a 12-5 spurt to close out the quarter and cut the deficit to 26-22.
"(Cole) is our go-to guy on the 3-point line. A lot of teams try to bottle him up, but when we can free him up, that's a good thing," said Petcavage.
Cole drained another 3-pointer with 6:56 left in the game to cut the gap to one point, but Sullivan's Sean Flannery answered with a 3-pointer - his only points of the game - to push the lead back to 29-25 with 6:20 remaining.
A baseline jumper Tyree Vydal - his only points of the game - and a steal and breakaway lay-up by Richad Allen tied the game at 29-29 with 5:32 remaining.
Petcavage said his team was motivated by its poor first-half performance.
"If we're down at halftime, my guys are usually fuming and they were fuming tonight - the steams was just coming off their heads.
"They came out and set the tempo in the second half and they've been able to do that all year," said Petcavage.
Vaughn agreed with his counterpart.
"They have a great defense and in the second half, they came out very motivated - that was the difference," he said. "We had trouble in the offensive end executing our stuff."
Vaughn also said his team didn't play as well in the second half as it did in the first.
"The things we did well defensively in the first half, we didn't do so well in the second half.
"(Neumann) started hitting some shots," said Vaughan. "They had a couple of role players hit shots and Jordan Cole hit three huge 3-pointers that really hurt us,
Petcavage said his team was much more patient after the intermission.
"We got back to the basics in the second half. We were patient and worked the ball," he said.
"We can get the outside shots anytime we want, but if they have to pay attention to us inside, then they're in trouble," said Petcavage. "They have to defend inside and outside."
Neumann took its first lead, at 31-29, since the opening minute on a short jumper by Reid with 4:16 remaining in the game.
After Sullivan County missed two opportunities to tie the game, Cole drove to the bucket and was fouled hard while banking in a runner off the glass. He knocked down the free throw to give the Knights a 34-29 lead with 2:28 remaining.
Zach Meyer gave the Griffins new life with a 3-pointer from the top-of-the-key to cut the deficit to 34-32 with 2:11 remaining.
After a defensive stop, Sullivan County turned the ball over without getting a shot off.
The Griffins came up with another stop when Neumann's Alize Johnson was charged with his fifth personal foul on an offensive foul with 1:05 remaining.
Sullivan County missed a 3-pointer for the lead with 34 seconds and another with 10 seconds remaining for the tie, sandwiched around a Cole free throw.
Cole iced the game with 3.2 seconds remaining with a pair of free throws.
Wilkins led the Griffins with 11 points and 10 rebounds, while Mullen added nine and Meyer chipped in with five.
Cole led St. John Neumann with 17 points, Reid scored eight and Johnson chipped in with six.
Sullivan County, now 22-3, will face District 3 runner-up Greenwood at a site and time to be determined next week in the opening round of the PIAA, Class A playoffs.