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Hester, West Mifflin topple Thomas Jefferson

C.J. got the best of T.J. once again.

C.J. Hester scored a game-high 17 points and blocked the potential game-winning shot attempt to lead No. 11 seed West Mifflin to a 49-46 win over No. 6 seed Thomas Jefferson in a WPIAL Class AAA first-round playoff game Tuesday night at Baldwin.

Hester, the 6-foot-4 junior forward for the Titans (13-7), scored 31 points in West Mifflin's 53-50 victory over the Jaguars in December.

This time, despite being held to two points in the second half, Hester came up with a big block on Jim Giansante underneath and assisted Robert Dillard's transition layup with 12 seconds left that eventually sealed the win.

"I'll take this win over that last one any day," said Hester, who averages 24.5 points per game.

As fast and as physical as a football game between the teams, this one wasn't decided until Thomas Jefferson missed two potential game-tying 3-pointers and the final buzzer sounded.

Dillard scored 13 points and Lonzell Coles added 10 for West Mifflin, which advanced to play Belle Vernon in Friday's quarterfinals.

Giansante led Thomas Jefferson (17-6) with 16 points, and Smith added 14. Poor foul shooting doomed Thomas Jefferson in the second half. The Jaguars came back from a 10-point halftime deficit but made just 6 of 13 from the line.

Hester mustered his late-game heroics despite battling a torn abdominal muscle.

"He's had it for a couple weeks, but he's played very well with it," West Mifflin coach Lance Maha said. "I wish I could play as well as he does with a torn abdominal muscle. He was really good early."

Hester pestered the Jaguars throughout the first half and led the Titans to a 34-24 halftime lead. He scored the first six points in a back-and-forth first half that featured fast breaks and steals, but only seven fouls.

Giansante and Smith both scored seven first-half points for Thomas Jefferson, but the Jaguars missed several critical opportunities on offense, allowing West Mifflin to build its 10-point cushion at the half.

Hester finished the first half with 15 points, including a 3-pointer, and Coles added six more points in the paint. It was Dillard, though, who hit the two biggest shots of the first half — a 3-pointer as the first quarter ended and a 2-point jumper at the halftime buzzer.

The Jaguars, though, closed that 10-point deficit to one, trailing just 40-39 at the start of the fourth quarter. Thomas Jefferson outscored West Mifflin, 15-6, in the third quarter and kept Hester scoreless.

With 4:50 to go in the fourth, Giansante stole the ball at midcourt and broke in for an easy layup, tying the game at 42. Giansante then hit a 3-pointer to tie it at 45 before Hester hit his first basket of the second half to give West Mifflin a 47-45 lead.

Smith made 1 of 2 free throws with 57 seconds left to narrow that lead to 47-46 before Hester's block and break.

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