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Strong finish carries Kennedy Catholic past Monessen

| Monday, March 20, 2017, 9:42 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Monessen's Taylor Vaughn scores past Kennedy Catholic's Clay O'Dell during the PIAA Class A boys basketball semifinal game Monday, March 20, 2017, at Slippery Rock University.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Monessen's Justice Rice is fouled by Kennedy Catholic's Maceo Austin during the PIAA Class A boys basketball semifinal game Monday, March 20, 2017, at Slippery Rock University.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Monessen's Jaden Altomore gets past Kennedy Catholic's Channing Phillips during the PIAA Class A boys basketball semifinal game Monday, March 20, 2017, at Slippery Rock University.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Monessen's Jaden Altomore and Jaron Youngblood defend Kennedy Catholic's Channing Phillips during the PIAA Class A boys basketball semifinal game Monday, March 20, 2017, at Slippery Rock University.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Kennedy Catholic's Maceo Austin dunks past Monessen's Taylor Vaughn during the PIAA Class A boys basketball semifinal game Monday, March 20, 2017, at Slippery Rock University.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Monessen's Jaron Youngblood scores past Kennedy Catholic's Marcin Wiszomirski during the PIAA Class A boys basketball semifinal game Monday, March 20, 2017, at Slippery Rock University.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Kennedy Catholic's Mohaned Konate defends Monessen's Taylor Vaughn during the PIAA Class A boys basketball semifinal game Monday, March 20, 2017, at Slippery Rock University.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Kennedy Catholic's Clay O'Dell blocks the shot of Monessen's Jaden Altomore during the PIAA Class A boys basketball semifinal game Monday, March 20, 2017, at Slippery Rock University.

SLIPPERY ROCK — A wave of momentum came over Kennedy Catholic in the fourth quarter, ignited by the most exciting play in basketball. Two of them.

And with that, the Golden Eagles dunked Monessen.

Clay O'Dell and Mohamed Konate each threw down slam dunks inside the final two minutes and Monessen went ice-cold from the field as Kennedy Catholic ran to a 73-59 victory in a PIAA Class A boys basketball semifinal Monday night at Slippery Rock University.

The No. 1-ranked team in the state, Kennedy Catholic (25-2) will look to defend its state title Thursday in Hershey against Girard College. District 10 champ Kennedy Catholic will go for its eighth state title.

Monessen, the WPIAL champion, ends its season at 22-8.

“We rushed some shots when we got down, and I don't think our legs were really there tonight,” Monessen coach Joe Salvino said. “(Kennedy Catholic) put the ball in the hole and we didn't.”

A fast-paced game with plenty of noise from the stands displayed both teams' athleticism. The Golden Eagles outscored Monessen, 22-10, in the fourth, ending the victory with a 10-4 run.

Intense pressure took Monessen out of its game in spurts, forcing the Greyhounds to score in half-court sets. Kennedy found success on backdoor cuts and won without making a 3-pointer.

Sophomore Maceo Austin scored a game-high 19 points and senior guard Drew Magestro added 15 for the Golden Eagles.

“Maceo and Drew are the best backcourt in the state,” Kennedy coach Rick Mancino said. “We have been very fortunate to have them the last few years. We have great kids who know how to win.”

The Greyhounds, who had their sights on their first state title since 1989, had control at times. But late possessions came up empty and Kennedy scored on fast breaks.

“We knew we'd have trouble pressing them, but I thought we defended well,” Salvino said. “We came at them with our half-court swarm ‘D' but they just kept on coming.”

Senior Justice Rice led Monessen with 18 points, senior Jaden Altomore had 16 and junior Cory Fleming made four 3-pointers and finished with 14.

Monessen played without 6-5 sophomore forward Lyndon Henderson, who was ejected from the Greyhounds' quarterfinal game.

Fleming sparked Monessen in the second quarter with three 3-pointers as the Greyhounds took a 33-32 lead into the break.

Monessen's last lead was at 40-38 on a Fleming 3. Senior 6-foot-8 forward Marcin Wiszomirski and Magestro each converted and-1 plays to help put the Golden Eagles back in control.

Wiszomirski fouled out with 14 points.

Rice's 3-point play to end the third cut it to 51-49.

Monessen crept to within 53-52 on a banked-in 3 by Altomore, but only managed one field goal the rest of the way. Kennedy Catholic, meantime, made 10 of 13 free throws in the fourth — and 17 of 22 for the game — to peel away.

Austin also had a dunk, in the first quarter.

Mancino said the secret to his team's handling of high-pressure games was playing a loaded schedule that included 6A state-qualifier Latrobe, which beat them 86-76.

“We played the Class 2A runner-up, the 3A champ, Erie Strong Vincent, Latrobe, and we scrimmaged Pine-Richland,” Mancino said. “We put ourselves in this position. This was a tough atmosphere; Monessen has tough kids and their fans are tough too. There were a couple times I couldn't hear my assistant coaches.”

Salvino was sad to see Rice and Altomore, a pair of two-time WPIAL champs, play their last high school game.

“Jaden and Justice have been with me since they were freshmen,” Salvino said. “They're like my kids. Our seniors gave everything they could give, and I am proud of them.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BillBeckner.

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