Thomas Jefferson boys hustle their way past Steel Valley
It is not unusual for the first words out of Thomas Jefferson boys basketball coach Dom DeCicco's mouth to his team when they are down at halftime to be: “You are playing soft. You are playing like little girls,” senior forward Chase Winovich said.
And when you play for Thomas Jefferson and your coach is known as Big Dom, the one thing that's required is playing tough at all times.
Steel Valley got a big helping of that TJ toughness from the outset Friday as the Jaguars took over sole possession of second place in Section 4-AAA with a bruising 84-57 win in front of a standing-room-only crowd at TJ.
Elizabeth Forward (11-1, 4-0) sits atop of the section, closely followed by TJ (9-2, 3-1), West Mifflin (7-2, 2-2) and Steel Valley (7-2, 2-2).
“We just got an old-fashioned butt-whipping — it's as simple as I can say it,” Steel Valley coach Shawn McCallister said. “We got outhustled and outworked, and that's TJ's style, and we knew that coming in.”
Armed with four football players in the starting five — with three of them standing at least 6-foot-3 — TJ used brute force against the athletic and talented Ironmen.
Winovich (16 points, 11 rebounds) and Eric Fairman (11 points, 14 rebounds) combined for 27 points and 25 rebounds, and Charlie Scharbo led the way with 21 points on 9 of 14 shooting. Jason Horan added 13 points, and Zach Talley scored nine.
Ajan Smith scored a game-high 26 for Steel Valley, and Dom Keyes added 12 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks. But 16 first-half turnovers (26 for the game), a 1-for-18 performance from 3-point range and two long scoring droughts were too much for the Ironmen to overcome.
“When we outwork teams, we will win the game,” Winovich said. “Big Dom always says it doesn't matter who we are going against that we are going to outwork them.”
For TJ, outworking teams means getting loose balls, forcing turnovers, getting second and third rebounds, and creating havoc.
The Jaguars executed all of that, especially during two game-altering runs — a 15-0 spurt at the end of the first quarter and a 16-2 run midway through the third quarter.
“Rebounds and defense is how you go on runs,” DeCicco said.
The first run was spurred by a defense that forced six consecutive turnovers that turned a 13-11 deficit into a 26-13 lead by the end of the first quarter.
“We were out of sync to start the game and never recovered,” McCallister said. “Those kids work and keep coming at you. We knew what to expect but just didn't do a good job with it.”
Steel Valley was able to get within 46-37 when Dorian Broadwater converted a three-point play, but TJ reeled off 16 points within a span of just less than three minutes to put the game away.
“Steel Valley is the most talented team in our section,” DeCicco said. “We stressed to take away their transition game, and I thought we did a great job with our transition game. If it was up to me, I would never get into the half-court set. We want to get up and go and try to put the pressure on them.”