West Mifflin boys slow down Steel Valley
If there was one thing West Mifflin wanted to do against Steel Valley, it was to slow down the Ironmen's transition game to limit the effectiveness of junior Ajan Smith.
By doing just that, the Titans put themselves on the fast track to a section title.
West Mifflin (9-2, 5-0) played its grind-it-out style to perfection and limited Steel Valley's offensive opportunities as the Titans rolled to a 53-38 victory in the first of two meetings between the schools.
The Titans hold a half-game lead over Thomas Jefferson (7-3, 4-0) in Section 4-AAA and will play the Jaguars on Jan. 15.
“I thought we did a nice job defensively following the game plan for the first time this year,” West Mifflin coach Lance Maha said. “Ajan is a very good player for them, and we did a nice job cutting down his driving angles, and we didn't give them anything in transition. They run well, and they jump well. And if they get running, they can hurt you.”
Not only did Steel Valley (8-3, 3-1) never get its transition game moving, it never really found any offensive consistency against a stingy West Mifflin defense. The Ironmen were held to only four baskets in the first half and only their 7-of-10 shooting from the line kept them in the game and down just 22-16 at the intermission.
Smith led the team with 14 points and was the only Steel Valley player in double digits.
“We played their game. We got into a slow-down position, and they did a good job of slowing us down,” Steel Valley coach Shawn McCallister said. “We want to run up and down the court, but we hurt ourselves, too. We gave up too many second-chance opportunities, and we gave up too many rebounds in the first half.”
Part of the reason for West Mifflin's dominance on the boards was a breakout game from 6-foot-8 senior center Cleve Randolph, who tied teammate Cye Murphy with a game-high 16 points and added 11 rebounds to keep Steel Valley from getting out in transition.
“I think this was his best game of the season by far, and he's taken baby steps as the season's gone on,” Maha said.
“We're really proud of him in general because he's lost 25 pounds since last season and he's really come on. He stepped up in the biggest game of his career to this point.”
Murphy also chipped in eight rebounds and put and exclamation point in the game when he took an alley-oop inbounds pass from Ryan Maha from under the basket and slammed it with 1:01 remaining in the game. Ryan Maha also finished in double figures with 13.
“Early in the season, Ryan was scoring 23 or 24 points a game, and we were getting a box-and-1 defense against us every game. But now our other guys are stepping up, and we're getting three or four guys in double figures every night,” Lance Maha said. “It makes it more difficult for teams to use that defense, so I don't know if we'll see much more of that as the season goes on as we have to this point.”
Both Steel Valley and West Mifflin have dates remaining with Thomas Jefferson to close out the first half of the section schedule. The Ironmen will take on the Jaguars on Friday, while the Titans have a week off to prepare their game plan.
“We'll take a day off, but TJ, we never have to worry about being emotionally into the game,” Lance Maha said. “I think that we spend time to prepare for them specifically ... because they're the most physical team in our (section). For us, I don't think it will be an easy preparation, but physically and mentally, we'll be ready.”