After long layoff, TJ boys preparing for state playoffs
The Thomas Jefferson boys basketball players spent the last two weeks doing the one thing no team wants to do at playoff time.
First, the Jaguars had to hold their collective breath to find out if their season had ended with a 59-40 loss to Montour on Feb. 22 in the WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinals. Then, after the Spartans defeated Mars in the semifinals and assured Thomas Jefferson a spot in the state playoffs, they had to wait for the result of WPIAL championship game to determine whether they would play the District 10 champion or the WPIAL champion.
As it turned out, Montour defeated Chartiers Valley, 47-40, last weekend at Duquesne University's A.J. Palumbo Center, which gave Thomas Jefferson (17-7) the No. 5 seed coming out of District 7.
The Jaguars will play District 10 champion General McLane (20-5) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Edinboro University in the opening round of the PIAA tournament.
“That's the tough part about it is that you're in limbo for awhile, but the kids have really responded well,” Thomas Jefferson coach Dom DeCicco said. “We had a couple of good practices and worked on conditioning and shooting, and we've started ratcheting it up with scrimmages (Tuesday) against Jeannette and Greensburg Central Catholic. We'll get them ready Wednesday and Thursday for General McLane.”
Maybe the layoff was the best thing that could have happened for Thomas Jefferson, especially considering that the team didn't play its best in either of its WPIAL playoff games, even its 48-41 win over Laurel Highlands in the opening round. The Jaguars were 12-0 in Section 4 this season but only 5-7 in their nonsection games despite a wealth of talent that includes forward Joe Carroll, point guard Zach Schademan and center Chase Winovich.
“I saw TJ one game, and they're very athletic,” said General McLane coach Andy Schulz, whose 598 wins are the most in District 10 history. “They have some football players that have good basketball skill, they shoot the ball really well outside, and I'm really impressed with their athleticism.”
Winovich may be under the microscope more than anyone considering he will be matched up in the paint with 6-foot-5, 225-pound center Quinn Thompson, a Connecticut football recruit, who had seven points and 10 rebounds in a 47-44 win over Girard in the District 10 championship game.
“I told him that there's a kid who's going on a football scholarship to Connecticut, and here's a great challenge. For him, he loves a challenge,” DeCicco said. “I think he'll be fine.”
Perhaps one thing Thomas Jefferson needs to do is pull the Lancers out of their defensive comfort zone. General McLane has the ability to run and gun with teams but prefers to play low-scoring games. If the Jaguars can get a few transition baskets early on, it might open up play later in the game.
Not being able to get out and run are primary reasons for the team's postseason struggles to this point, DeCicco said.
“We have got to dictate the pace, which is hard because they have two 6-foot-5 kids, two decent shooters on the wing and a point guard who is one of their top scorers,” DeCicco said. “We have to get our guards into the lane a lot against them, and we have to be shooting the ball well. We just have to.”