Monessen boys beaten by USC

| Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Monessen coach Joe Salvino believes in playing a strong non-section schedule, which is why the Greyhounds opened the season Friday with AAAA host Upper St. Clair at the USC Tip-Off Tournament.

The Panthers used their size advantage to jump to an early lead over the Class A Greyhounds before coasting to a 65-50 victory.

The first quarter was plagued by sloppy play by both teams before the Panthers found a rhythm and led 40-21 at the half.

“We played great at times and poorly at times,” Salvino said. “We missed some shots and our defensive performance wasn't that strong, both especially in the first half. We were in the game early, but then sat back and watched them pour in 10 straight buckets. That killed us early.”

The Greyhounds were unable to effectively combat the Panthers' size. Upper St. Clair started three players 6-3 and taller, including 6-6 center Nick Staley. Monessen's tallest player is 6-2 Tyler Yuille.

J.J. Conn, a 6-3 senior, scored a game-high 27 points for the Panthers.

“It's difficult when you're as small as we are,” Salvino said. “They're a 4-A school with some size. We are an athletic team, but with virtually no size.”

Monessen looked like a different team in the third quarter, effectively pressuring the Panthers into turnovers and blocked shots and using their athleticism to negate Upper St. Clair's size advantage.

The Greyhounds opened the second half on a 15-3 run, pulling within eight at one point.

“The second half was much better than the first,” Salvino said. “We didn't make any adjustments at half, just performed better. Our defense was much better and that opened up some things for us and we made the shots.”

Senior guard Javon Brown led the Greyhounds with 21 points. In the first half, Brown scored 12 of Monessen's 21 points.

The Greyhounds were at their best when they were effectively able to shoot from the outside. Justice Rawlins went into the half with only two points, but contributed 10 in the second half.

Lavelle Rush had the best showing from beyond the arc for Monessen, finishing 2-of-4 from distance and contributing 12 points of his own.

“Javon played a good game,” Salvino said. “He has the ability to really take over a game, and he can drive the lane as well as anybody. But right now we are searching for that guy who can hit the open three when he kicks it back out.

“But I'm happy, it's still the first game and we are still figuring things out. The kids played hard and that's all I can ask for.”

Monessen plays Franklin Regional in the third-place game today at 6 p.m.

Donnie Tasser is a freelance writer.

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