McKeesport will need solid outside shooting against Bethel Park
Every time one of his players spots up around the 3-point line, McKeesport's Corey Gadson can't help but cringe.
And who can blame Gadson's fragile psyche after a decade's worth of suspect outside shooting that very likely cost the Tigers a WPIAL title or two?
But heading into Saturday's WPIAL Class AAAA first-round playoff game against Bethel Park at Baldwin (3 p.m.), Gadson knows that if his team has any chance of upsetting the Black Hawks for the second time in less than a week, it's going to have to come from the outside.
“Even now, falling in love with the three isn't really our style,” Gadson said. “But if they go in, I guess we love them then.”
Gadson has loved them more often than not this year with a quartet of sharpshooters at his disposal: William Gadson, Demonje Walker, Jordon Payne and Carlitto Acie. None of the long-range shooters averages double figures, but if they get hot, look out.
“We have to make shots,” Gadson said. “Our inside game probably isn't as strong as it used to be, so we have to rely on our outside game some. For us, it has been good … lately.”
It was real good Monday in McKeesport's 58-51 nonsection win at Bethel Park (17-5). The Tigers hit eight 3-pointers, led by Walker's four.
“They can shoot the ball well and showed that Monday,” Bethel Park coach Ben O'Connor said. “It is as simple as getting back on defense and locating their shooters. We can't afford to give them open looks.”
But the biggest issue facing O'Connor is where to focus the defensive attention.
Eight different players — Gadson, Acie, Walker, Payne, Mikell Moore, Jamie Grayson, Daryn Simmons, Khalil Perdue — have led McKeesport in scoring. Only twice has the same player led the team in scoring in back-to-back games.
“It is a tough thing to defend,” O'Connor said. “Corey does a good job of preaching unselfishness. They have eight or nine legitimate players, and you have to defend all of them.”
McKeesport (14-7), which lost five of its seven games by six points or fewer, will likely be without Moore (ankle) and Simmons (knee), but the Tigers' ability to have a number of different players put up points is something that Gadson believes is difficult to prepare for.
“It is unusual, but it is good,” Gadson said. “I don't think we ever had that before, but it is good because that typically means that your assists are up. These guys trust each other, and that's good.”
Despite spreading the scoring around, McKeesport's been inconsistent as of late. The Tigers haven't won back-to-back games since they won their ninth consecutive game on Jan. 15. Since then, McKeesport has split its past eight games.
“You know, we have to get off that,” Gadson said. “We have played some good teams, but we can't do that. We have to play at a more consistent level. We won (nine) in a row early in the season, so we are capable of doing it.”
Bethel Park, which finished behind Upper St. Clair in Section 4, is led by 6-foot-2 senior swingman Cody Gilchrist (12.3 ppg.), 6-11 senior center Wyatt Haggerty (10.7) and 5-9 senior guard Rohan Young (10.7). Gilchrist and Young combined for 22 points in Monday's loss to McKeesport.
“We got a chance to get a look at them and get them on tape, but I wouldn't read much into it because it was Senior Night and I think he started players that he doesn't normally start so it will probably be a little different.”
O'Connor added: “I think it is beneficial that the kids are familiar with their personnel. We are so evenly matched it is basically going to come down to who plays better.”
The winner will play either Hampton or Mt. Lebanon on Feb. 23.