Thomas Jefferson outworks West Mifflin, clinches section title outright
Thomas Jefferson isn't going to wow you with its size or even any big-time scorers.
It isn't going to impress you with its athleticism, or as Jaguars coach Dom DeCicco put it: “We sure aren't going to dunk on anybody.”
But what they are going to do is beat you up and then beat you.
Every team in Section 4-AAA can attest to that and none more than West Mifflin. The Titans found out for the second time in three weeks.
Thomas Jefferson scrapped and worked its way to its first outright section title in three years and likely a top-five seed in the upcoming Triple-A playoffs with a convincing and workmanlike 57-38 win at West Mifflin (15-5, 10-2).
“There isn't anything fancy we do,” DeCicco said. “It's just like we outwork teams and we pride ourselves on defense.”
Playing with defensive leader Eric Fairman (concussion) and having top scorer Joe Carroll on the bench for the majority of the second quarter in foul trouble, Thomas Jefferson (16-6, 12-0) turned to its defense once again to attain the title.
“We wanted to win the section outright and go 12-0,” Carroll said. “We didn't want to share it with them. We work hard and we watch film and see what they like to do. We game plan around that and how we want to attack them.”
And, of course, that game plan was focused on defense.
TJ forced 23 turnovers, allowed West Mifflin to attempt only 37 shots from the floor — including only three by the Titans' top scorer Ryan Maha in the first half — and pushed the Titans around in the paint by grabbing 14 offensive. It was West Mifflin's worst defeat of the season.
“It is easy to accept this game because we got outplayed,” Maha said. “It wasn't like it came down to a last-second shot. Sometimes you just have to take your hat off to them.”
Carroll led the way with 19 points and Jason Horan 11 while the Jaguars got solid two-way play from Zach Schademan, Adam Miller, Zach Talley and Chase Winovich. DeCicco even got solid minutes from seldom-used Zack Good and Charlie Scharbo.
West Mifflin got 14 points from Ryan Maha on only 4-of-9 shooting from the floor.
“We need to get him the ball more, but he needs to be able get the ball, too,” Lance Maha said. “They contested every pass. We turned it over a lot. Part of it was nerves, but part of it was them, too.”
Thomas Jefferson didn't want to get into a half-court game with the bigger Titans.
“We said all week that it was key to whoever could dictate the pace,” DeCicco said. “If we could speed them up, we felt that we had a legit chance. If it got to a half court game, it would've been a little harder for us.”
TJ opened up a quick 8-2 first-quarter lead, but West Mifflin was able to get even at 10-10 with three minutes left in the quarter.
But Carroll took over after that, scoring seven points in a span of 2:50 including a 3-pointer at the buzzer to extend the lead to 17-10.
It was a lead that TJ would never relinquish even though Carroll found himself on the bench early in the second quarter with his second foul.
“We had to sit down Carroll for a quarter but was able to extend the lead,” DeCicco said. “I think that was a big key.”
West Mifflin got to within 17-14, but TJ rolled off an 11-3 run to end the quarter on the strength of five Horan points and a Good 3-pointer at the buzzer.
“It was a tough stretch coming in,” Maha said. “They hit that three at the buzzer to go down 11 and now you have to battle back. Now you are playing a different type of game.”
It was the type of game Thomas Jefferson thrives in playing.
TJ forced 14 second-half turnovers and opened up a 14-point lead by the end of the third. The Jaguars ground down West Mifflin the final quarter to clinch the section title on the court of its biggest rival.
“For us, there really isn't much we can do about it,” Maha said. “We can watch film and yell and scream, but the reality of it is that we probably played ourselves out of good seed. It just wasn't our night.”