Sloppy Thomas Jefferson survives
Thomas Jefferson watched a lot of tape on Laurel Highlands before the two teams played in the first round of the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs.
Maybe too much.
“I'll be honest, because when we were watching film, I could see on our guys' faces that — not that we could handle them — but that they thought we were better than them,” Thomas Jefferson coach Dom DeCicco said.
“I told our coaches that I could already see (bad things) and I should have shut my mouth because it all came true. It was not a good effort on our part, but we'll take it.”
Thomas Jefferson (17-6) shot poorly from the floor, had a non-existent transition game and barely had a rebounding edge despite a more physical presence in the paint, yet somehow the Jaguars survived with a 48-41 victory over Laurel Highlands (15-7) at Gateway.
“I think it's beneficial because everyone needs a game like this coming into the playoffs,” Thomas Jefferson senior guard Zach Schademan said.
“You've got to reassure yourself and get back to your peak.”
Guard Joe Carroll led Thomas Jefferson with 14 points, but he, like the rest of the team, had a tough shooting night. The Jaguars finished only 20 of 61 from the field and had few fast-break points despite forcing 26 Mustangs turnovers.
“When Joey can have a bad night like that … it's just more confidence for them,” DeCicco said. “It just shows them they can win when they're not playing their best.”
Several times it appeared the Jaguars were ready to blow the game open, but they made mistakes and allowed Laurel Highlands to stick around.
Thomas Jefferson opened the second half with a 16-7 run to take a 36-23 lead with 1:06 remaining in the third quarter, but the Mustangs fought back and cut the deficit to 42-38 with 1:56 to play.
Laurel Highlands had the ball with an opportunity to make it a one-possession game, but miscommunication led to a turnover. The Mustangs also turned the ball over on their next possession and Jaguars forward Chase Winovich sealed it with a pair of free throws with 5.2 seconds remaining to cap a 10-point, 13-rebound night.
Though Thomas Jefferson may have been unimpressed with Laurel Highlands on film, there is little doubt the team will be more ready for its quarterfinal opponent.
The sixth-seeded Jaguars will take on No. 3 Montour (19-4), a 43-25 winner over Ambridge, on Friday at a site and time to be determined. Montour defeated Thomas Jefferson, 69-47, on Jan. 23.
“We've got a big game Friday against Montour and, if we play like that, we'll get blown out of the gym,” DeCicco said. “It's as simple as that.”