Aggressive attack bolsters Kittanning
No longer timid and no longer flooded with thoughts in their heads, stars and secondary contributors alike on Kittanning's boys basketball team attacked Indiana from all angles during a Section 1-AAA rematch Friday night.
Indiana, which set a slower pace when the teams met Jan. 15, succumbed to a more up-tempo, assertive Kittanning (17-4. 9-3), which won, 65-59, at home to move into a tie with the Little Indians (15-6, 9-3) for second place in Section 1-AAA.
“It was just seasoning for us,” Kittanning coach Bill Henry said. “I think the first time, over there, we played a little tight and didn't attack the zone. … We spent just about all day yesterday working on that.”
The Wildcats, who lost, 45-44, in the first meeting, scored as many points in the first quarter (16) Friday as they did in the first half of the January game. And that offensive success allowed them to take a lead in the second quarter that they never relinquished.
While Noah Kunst and Sterling Henry finished as the top scorers — 22 and 21 points, respectively — for Kittanning, they rarely needed to score to pick up the slack for others. The Wildcats showed early and often that they knew how to spread the shots around.
Vince Mead had a putback and another bucket in the paint during back-to-back possessions midway through the first quarter. He finished with six points.
Henry accumulated eight points by the end of the first quarter.
Kunst sank two 3-pointers and two floaters in the lane in a 3:00 span during the second quarter.
Kevin Barnes attacked the center lane for back-to-back layups midway through the third quarter. He had eight points.
And Mitch Pirhalla twice beat the Indiana defense by finding open space on the backside for easy buckets.
“Everybody had a little run there,” Bill Henry said. “Everybody took their turn stepping up.”
Sterling Henry needed just five more points to reach 1,000 for his career. But Kunst's hot hand limited Henry's scoring opportunities.
“I personally like playing against a zone because I know there are certain areas where, if you play it right, you get good looks,” Kunst said.
In part because of Kunst's second-quarter run, Kittanning went ahead by 10 with three minutes left in the half. But, in what became a trend during the game, Indiana fought its way back to heighten the drama.
A fast-break bucket by Kevin Jack cut Indiana's deficit to four points early in the third quarter.
Kittanning responded with a run that built a 44-32 lead. Then Indiana rallied, and two free throws by Riley Stapleton made it 49-45 just seconds into the fourth quarter.
A 3-pointer by Stapleton with 1:27 left in the game cut the Kittanning lead to 57-54. But the Little Indians never came closer. Stapleton finished with 11 points, while Jack had 10. Darrious Carter led the team with 17 points.
“No matter what defense we played, we weren't able to stop their dribble penetration,” Indiana coach Greg Lezanic said.
“One thing about this game was there was not one play we lost it on. We had many opportunities. … We just didn't take advantage of the opportunities.”
The game's tension helped prepare both teams for the postseason pressure that awaits next week.
Said Mead: “That was exactly like a playoff game for us.”