Clairton slams Cochranton in state playoff opener
Something was just off.
Or as Clairton point guard Bryon Clifford said: “It just didn't feel right.”
Clairton was back on the court Friday for a first-round state playoff game against District 10 runner-up Cochranton a week after losing in the WPIAL Class A championship game to Vincentian, and to Clifford, it felt like they were just going through the motions.
“Everybody is still hung up on that loss,” Clifford said. “We never lose on a big stage like that, and a lot of people are still down. It just didn't feel like the same after that loss.”
It might not have felt right for Clairton, but it sure looked mighty impressive.
Clairton raced out to a 21-6 first-half lead with some red-hot shooting then broke out the show time in the third quarter with three thunderous dunks, including a bounce-off-the-backboard tomahawk from Clifford to Titus Howard and a foul line one-hander by Santeaun Sims as the Bears cruised to a 76-48 win over Cochranton at Plum.
“You just never know what you are going to get with our guys,” Clairton coach Matt Geletko said. “If they see a team and don't think they are very good, sometimes we start off slow. But in the end, we played a good, strong overall game.”
Clairton (17-6) will take on Smethport (23-3), which won its first state playoff game with a 62-56 victory over Bishop Guilfoyle, on Tuesday at a site and time to be determined.
“You don't see teams like that where we play,” Cochranton coach Scott McCurdy said. “Sure, we were a little short-handed, but we gave it all we could.”
Clairton got a game-high 25 points from Clifford on 11 of 18 shooting, and Howard added 17 and Tyler Boyd 15.
Logan Herzberger scored 18 points, and Garrett Adams added 13 for Cochranton, which was held without a two-point basket in the first half. The Cardinals were without leading scorer Nick Dickson, who injured his knee in the D-10 title game.
“It was one less scoring threat for us and what it does is presents a question mark,” McCurdy said. “Where before you felt like you earned it and belong, now you lose a little confidence.”
McCurdy was more than happy letting Clairton shoot from long-range and the Bears obliged. Boyd and Armani Ford drained 3-pointers a minute into the game to get Clairton off to a fast start.
“We wanted Clairton to shoot outside because we weren't going to win the inside battle,” McCurdy said. “I never expected Clairton to shoot like they did.”
Clairton shot 45 percent from the floor and 40 percent from 3-point range as the Bears drained eight 3-pointers.
“Our shooting started to pick up, and then our defense started to pick up and then we were off,” Geletko said.
Actually, the Bears took off after that … literally.
Clairton opened up a 41-27 lead midway through the third quarter when Howard drove baseline and threw down a two-handed dunk.
A couple of minutes later, Clifford picked up a loose ball at midcourt and headed for an uncontested layup. However, he bounced the ball off the backboard as he went up for a layup and the ball caromed into the waiting right hand of Howard.
“We do that a lot in practice,” Clifford said. “When I am on a fast break I look for him.”
The Bears saved their best for last when Sims stole the ball and raced the length of the court before taking off just inside the foul line for a spectacular dunk.
“He does that in practice all the time and he usually misses it,” Geletko said. “These guys can really get above the rim, and it is enjoyable watching them do it.”