Thomas Jefferson boys gain section leverage wtih win over West Mifflin
Thomas Jefferson coach Dom DeCicco had seen just about enough of West Mifflin's Ryan Maha.
Maha hit a trio of 3-pointers within a span of two minutes late during Tuesday's Section 4-AAA first-place showdown with Thomas Jefferson as West Mifflin raced back from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to climb within one more Maha 3-pointer of sending the game into overtime.
However, DeCicco made sure if the game was going to go to overtime, it wasn't going to be because of Maha.
“I was done. I wasn't going to let him beat us,” DeCicco said.
DeCicco instructed his two best defenders — Zach Schademan and Eric Fairman — to guard Maha during an inbounds play with 9.5 seconds left.
DeCicco had to endure a wide-open Derrick Fulmore 3-point attempt and an ensuing inbounds play under the basket that resulted in a turnover, but Maha never touched the ball again, and Thomas Jefferson took over sole possession of first place in the section with a 52-47 win over visiting West Mifflin.
“It was a typical Thomas Jefferson-West Mifflin game,” DeCicco said, “with it coming down to the last second.”
Thomas Jefferson (10-3, 6-0) got 11 points from Chase Winovich and 10 each from Joe Carroll, Zach Talley and Fairman.
Maha finished with 27 points on 10-of-15 shooting, including 5 of 9 from 3-point range, but no other teammate had more than six points.
“We have beaten some quality teams so far, and when we play well is when we get three guys into double figures,” West Mifflin coach Lance Maha said. “We have to play a little better around Ryan. It's not like we aren't capable of doing that.”
However, West Mifflin (9-3, 5-1) didn't play well, especially early on. The Titans turned the ball four of their first five possessions and nine times in the first quarter as TJ took a 17-9 lead.
West Mifflin got to within 25-22 at the half, but a 16-2 run late in the third quarter and into the fourth where the Titans were held scoreless for a span of 7:30 ballooned the Jaguars' lead to 46-32 with 3:36 left.
“I don't really think we played well,” Lance Maha said. “It wasn't lack of effort, it was that we just turned it over way too much and that's been our problem the entire year.”
DeCicco saw his team's second-half spurt a different way.
“It was the energy provided by Fairman,” DeCicco said. “He got deflections, steals and we got some transition baskets and defensively, we locked them down.”
That is until Ryan Maha exploded.
Maha scored five quick points, followed by a Cleve Randolph bucket and a Fulmore layup to make it 46-41. After Winovich made it 48-41, Maha hit a three to get it within 48-44.
Two TJ foul shots by Talley made it 50-44, and when Maha hit another three over Fairman with 13 seconds left, which was quickly followed by a TJ turnover, West Mifflin had the ball and a chance to send the game into overtime.
“(Maha) got the ball with 20 seconds left and made a huge three over me,” Fairman said. “That one was on me. When I came back to the huddle I said I wanted him for these last nine seconds and that I wasn't going to allow him to touch the ball.”
DeCicco made sure of that, instructing both Fairman and Schademan to guard Maha.
“I told the guys that it's on me if somebody else beats us,” DeCicco said. “We did all we could against him and he still scored 27, and he hit some shots that were challenged. We just couldn't let him have an opportunity at the end.”