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Clairton takes down Monessen in battle of 3-A unbeatens

| Friday, Jan. 18, 2013, 11:00 p.m.
Clairton's Bryon Clifford goes in for a lay-up over two Monessen defenders during game action on Friday, January 18, 2013 at Clairton High School. Ronald Vezzani Jr./Daily News

Monessen isn't one of your run-of-the-mill, fly-by-night basketball programs.

Actually, it wouldn't be that far-fetched to call Monessen one of the best when you consider it won 51 games over the past two years in Class AA, advanced to the WPIAL title game twice and won one of them, along with having a coach who has won more than 500 games over the past three decades.

And last night in a Section 3-A showdown of unbeatens, Clairton made Monessen play a way that Joe Salvino has rarely seen — soft.

Those were Salvino's words following a thorough 56-38 beating by Clairton (7-3, 5-0) at an overflowing Bears Den as the hosts took over sole possession of first place while handing Monessen (5-9, 4-1) its first section loss since Jan. 29, 2010 — a span of 32 games.

“We came in here and saw this and what was going on and we just played soft; let's call a spade a spade,” Salvino said. “If we are going to be a good team, you have to meet a challenge. We were challenged, and we didn't meet it.”

Clairton had a lot to do with that.

The Bears, still playing without star Tyler Boyd, raced to a 33-23 halftime lead, then put the clamps on the Greyhounds. Monessen was limited to 15 points on 5-of-25 shooting from the floor over the final two quarters, giving Clairton the win in the schools' first meeting in five years.

“This is a very tough place to play,” Clairton rookie coach Matt Geletko said. “You are in for it when you come here to play. We have passionate fans, and they support their Bears. I don't know if this was a statement or not. We have a lot of room to improve, but maybe I am nitpicking a little bit.”

Geletko was indeed nitpicking.

Bryon Clifford scored a game-high 15 points, while Titus Howard, who played just his second game of the season, added 11 points, eight rebounds and five blocked shots. Terrish Webb added eight points and grabbed seven of Clairton's 60 rebounds.

Monessen got 11 points from Javon Brown, 10 points and 10 rebounds from Clintell Gillespie and 10 rebounds from Justice Rawlins.

“Clairton outhustled us and outplayed us in every aspect of the game,” Salvino said.

“We allowed one person control the whole game in the first half. He controlled the tempo, he controlled every part of the game.”

Salvino was talking about Clifford, the 5-foot-9 senior point guard.

Clifford scored 11 first-half points but did much more than that, distributing the ball and controlling the fast break to set up his teammates with some easy baskets.

“This was a big game for us,” Clifford said.

“I just love competition. Being that this was a rivalry game, I wanted it real bad, and I couldn't let my team down. I felt like I had to be the floor general and take over.”

Clairton jumped out to a 9-2 lead midway through the first quarter, but seven turnovers allowed Monessen back in the game despite shooting only 4 of 18 from the floor in the opening quarter.

The Bears opened up the second quarter on a 14-3 run as Clifford scored five, Webb four and Howard hit a big 3-pointer to give Clairton a 25-16 lead.

A 12-5 run to open the second half all but sealed the game for the Bears as they opened up a 45-28 lead late in the third quarter and cruised to the win.

“Hopefully we are getting all our players back and we can get things dialed in by February,” Geletko said. “This will give us a lot of confidence and go a long way for us.”

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mkaboly@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib

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