Knoch defense stuns Indiana
A couple of fans in the Knoch student section wore strands of multicolored holiday lights around their necks Friday night to get their team in the spirit — the spirit for an upset.
Led by a defensive effort that was as determined as it was oppressive, Knoch responded with flying colors, vanquishing Indiana, the No. 3-ranked team in WPIAL Class AAA, 52-37, before a raucous home crowd.
The court-storming win marked the first time the Knights had beaten Indiana in Section 1 play since the 2006-07 season.
Knoch (6-0, 3-0) stiff-armed a team averaging 63 points per game with a smothering man-to-man scheme that left Hampton feeling like it was wearing a scratchy, undersized wool Christmas sweater.
The Knights are allowing just 35.8 points per game, the lowest average in the WPIAL.
“Our defense kept us in it; it was 32 minutes of defense,” Knoch coach Ron McNabb said. “We feel if we hunker down and guard, we can play at our best. Our kids didn't put their heads down when we weren't shooting well and kept after it.”
Indiana (6-1, 1-1) shot 0 for 19 from 3-point range and never was allowed to play its uptempo style.
“We knew they were going to come in and pressure the ball and sag the back side,” Indiana coach Greg Lezanic said. “They took away our dribble penetration.”
Senior guard David Gallagher scored 15 of his game-high 20 points in the second half, which saw the offense pick up for Knoch. The Knights trailed 7-5 after the first quarter, and the teams were tied 17-17 at halftime.
Knoch, though, pulled in front 36-29 heading to the fourth after three third-quarter 3s by Gallagher.
“When I was growing up, I was always taught to keep shooting, even if you're having a bad night,” Gallagher said. “You have to have a short-term memory. I kept telling myself to keep shooting.”
Senior point guard Austin Miller added 13 points, including three 3s, and junior forward Matt Zanella scored 12 for Knoch, which outscored the Indians, 16-8, in the fourth quarter.
Jim Larrimer's putback, a cutting drive by Zanella and a top-of-the-key 3 by Gallagher pushed the advantage to 46-34 with 3:33 left in the fourth.
“I thought (Gallagher) looked confident (Thursday) in practice,” McNabb said. “Zanella and Larrimer did a tremendous job on the boards.”
Indiana's only highlight of the second half was a breakaway dunk by Riley Stapleton, but his team still trailed by double figures after the jam.
“We like to play zone,” Lezanic said. “It doesn't matter if you're an NBA team, a high school team or a third-grade team, you have to have the lead to be able to dictate your defense.”
Knoch struggled to make free throws, converting 8 of 21 from the line. Although, to their credit, the Knights went 6 of 8 inside the final minute-plus to salt it away.
“We wanted to slow them down and do what we do,” Miller said. “It was all about our help defense. We knew what was coming; we played our game.”
Junior guard Kevin Jack led Indiana with 11 points. Senior 6-foot-5 forward Darrious Carter, a Temple football recruit, was held to two.
Knoch still has one more game before its holiday break commences. And another ranked opponent awaits. Quad-A No. 1 Hampton (6-0) visits Knoch on Monday.
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at email@example.com.