Carroll leads TJ's second-half rally against Steel Valley
Dom DeCicco shook his head in disbelief and had the body language of a defeated man to go with it.
Two minutes into the second half of Friday's Section 4-AAA showdown at Steel Valley, Thomas Jefferson not only trailed by 15 points but had no answer for Ajan Smith.
The only thing that gave DeCicco any glimmer of hope was the ability his team has shown to turn defense into some quick offense. So DeCicco went to a man-to-man defense and turned up the pressure.
And it didn't hurt that Joe Carroll got going as well.
Thomas Jefferson erased one of its biggest deficits of the year in a matter of minutes with stifling defense just in time for its offense to awaken.
TJ forced 16 second-half turnovers, Carroll scored 18 of his team-high 19 points and Zach Schademan limited Smith to six points on six shots in the second half as the Jaguars scored the final six points of the game to escape Steel Valley with a 60-56 win.
Thomas Jefferson (9-3, 5-0) remained tied atop the section standings with idle West Mifflin (9-2, 5-0). The two meet at TJ on Tuesday.
“We knew our defense could get us points offensively,” Carroll said. “We just knew we had to withstand their storm and come back.”
Chase Winovich added nine points and 14 rebounds while Schademan chipped in with nine for the Jags.
Steel Valley (8-4, 3-2) got 23 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks from Smith.
“You have to give TJ credit. They hung in there and played hard, played tough defense and we didn't step up in the end,” Steel Valley coach Shawn McCallister said. “They turned the heat up on us and we just didn't handle the pressure. You can't win the game playing that way.”
Steel Valley played near flawless in the first half.
Smith scored 17 points and grabbed all of his rebounds by halftime.
And more importantly, Steel Valley took care of the ball.
The Ironmen turned it over only eight times by the half and led 34-23.
“We know what we wanted to try to do, but they are so athletic it is hard to do it,” DeCicco said. “It is tough because Ajan Smith is so good. He is one of the best players in the section for sure.”
It didn't help that Carroll was stone cold.
Carroll missed all seven of his field goals in the first half and three of his four free throws.
“Joe is our guy, but he had a horrible first half,” DeCicco said. “But he came out in the second half and it didn't affect him and didn't bother him and he knocked them down.”
Steel Valley quickly extended its lead to 38-23 on third-quarter buckets by Dorian Broadwater and Tyrieq Patton.
After that, it was the Joe Carroll show.
Carroll scored 14 points over the next six minutes, including a pair of 3-pointers 42 seconds apart at the end of the third to get TJ within 49-48.
“We knew TJ was going to keep coming at us,” McCallister said. “No matter what the scoreboard said, they are going to keep coming after us.”
TJ took the lead on a Zach Talley three early in the fourth before the teams traded baskets and foul shots to set the score at 56-56 with 40 seconds left.
Carroll drove the left baseline and pulled up for a 10-foot jumper to give TJ a 58-56 lead with 40 seconds left.
Steel Valley had one last chance, but Carroll knocked the ball away from Dylan Smith for the 24th and final Ironmen turnover of the game to give TJ its fourth straight win.
“Let me tell you, nobody is going undefeated in this section; I do believe that,” DeCicco said. “We feel fortunate to be able to get out of here with a win.”