McKeesport can't handle Hampton in WPIAL basketball playoffs
McKeesport started red-hot and finished with a flurry of 3-pointers.
However, it was in between — along with the play of Ryan Luther — that doomed any hope of the Tigers upsetting No. 3 Hampton and advancing to the Class AAAA semifinals for the first time in five years.
Luther scored 18 of his game-high 31 points in the second quarter — including 11 in a row — as Hampton could do nothing wrong in putting up a season-high 50 first-half points in a 71-63 win over McKeesport at North Allegheny on Saturday.
Hampton (20-4) joins three other Section 3 teams in the semifinals — New Castle (24-0), North Allegheny (21-3) and Seneca Valley (17-7). Hampton will take on North Allegheny at Chartiers Valley on Wednesday. McKeesport's season is over unless Hampton wins the WPIAL title, and a lot of it was because of a torrid first half for the Talbots.
“We talked about defending the past five days, and then we just buried ourselves defensively,” McKeesport coach Corey Gadson said.
McKeesport was able to rally with four 3-pointers in a 54-second span in the final minute to get within four, but it couldn't come all the way back from a 24-point deficit.
McKeesport (15-8) received 12 points from Jordon Payne and Jamie Grayson, and William Gadson added 11. Leading scorer Carlitto Acie, who scored 28 in a first-round win over Bethel Park, was held to seven points and just one 3-pointer. McKeesport made 10 3-pointers, seven of which came in the final 11 minutes of the game.
“It was just a tale of two halves,” Gadson said. “You play that ‘What if?' game a little bit after something like this.”
• What if Hampton didn't shoot 69 percent from the floor and make 56 percent of its 3-point shots in the opening 16 minutes?
• What if Luther didn't score 21 of Hampton's 26 points in a span of less than a quarter?
• What if the Tigers hadn't allowed more points in the first half than they did during six full games this year?
But, maybe nothing McKeesport could have done would have changed the outcome.
“I think we played our best basketball of the season in the first half,” Hampton coach Joe Lafko said. “We were clicking on all cylinders.”
The same can be said about Luther, an athletic 6-foot-8 junior forward who was nearly unstoppable.
Luther hit 11 of his first 13 shots, and did it in a variety of ways — off the dribble, with his back to the basket, on thunderous dunks and long-range jumpers.
“When a 6-8 guy can step out and shoot jump shots, that's a tough matchup for anybody, just not us,” Gadson said.
McKeesport trailed, 16-15, late in the first quarter when Luther took over. When he was finished with his one-man highlight show 8:20 later, Hampton led, 43-24, and Luther had 24 points, 21 of which came over that span.
“It was probably the best first half he has played in his career,” Lafko said.
However, McKeesport wasn't about to go quietly.
The Tigers trailed, 56-32, midway through the third quarter before starting their comeback. A 17-4 run that stretched into the fourth quarter trimmed the deficit to 60-49.
Lafko credited McKeesport's tenacity for the comeback, but he also felt that his team had something to do with it, too.
“We were trying to be patiently aggressive,” Lafko said. “I know that's an oxymoron, but you have to be able to take good shots and make the defenses works a little bit. I think we went into a little bit of an offensive shell, and that let McKeesport have some momentum.”
Hampton padded its lead to 64-51 before 3-pointers by Payne, Damonje Walker, William Gadson and Darryn Simmons within 54 seconds of each other cut the lead to 67-63 in the final minute.
But Hampton made four free throws in the final 10 seconds to put the game away.
“In the end, I am happy that we are moving on in this tournament and happy with the victory that we had,” Lafko said.