Steel Valley routs No. 1 Elizabeth Forward in section showdown
Over the past month — whether the Warriors knew it or not — top-ranked Elizabeth Forward had some pretty rabid supporters.
Ever since Steel Valley blew a 15-point third-quarter lead and lost in overtime on Elizabeth Forward's home court last month, the Ironmen wanted nothing more than for the Warriors to keep on winning.
Of course, it was for selfish reasons.
Steel Valley wanted to be the team that knocked Elizabeth Forward from the ranks of the unbeaten in Section 4-AAA.
With Steel Valley coach Shawn McCallister serving a mandatory PIAA one-game suspension for being ejected in a game earlier in the week, the Ironmen kept their section title hopes alive with a convincing 82-63 win over Elizabeth Forward that snapped the Warriors' five-game winning streak.
“From that day, they have been looking forward to that day,” assistant coach Ed Wellman said.
“We said that they were going to be the first team to knock them off.
“We wanted them to run the section so we could be the first team to beat them.”
The win pushed Steel Valley (10-2, 5-2) to within a game of Elizabeth Forward (13-2, 6-1) for first place with three weeks left in the season.
“They outhustled us and outplayed us in the first half,” Elizabeth Forward coach Gerald Grayson said. “What basically happened was that we got into deep foul trouble, and we really couldn't play our man-to-man defense.”
Steel Valley got big games from Dom Keyes and Ajan Smith. Keyes scored 21 points and grabbed 21 rebounds (11 offensive) while Smith added 20 points and 10 boards. Derek Taylor chipped in with 18, and Kennedy Smith scored 15 off the bench.
Elizabeth Forward got 21 from Austin Matta, 15 from Jalen French and 11 from JaQuan Davidson, but the majority of the Warriors' points (31 of their 63) came in the fourth quarter with the game out of hand.
“We just played tremendous defense,” Wellman said.
It didn't hurt that the Warriors were in foul trouble from the outset.
Davidson picked up his third foul three minutes into the second quarter and his fourth three minutes into the third, while 6-foot-9 center George Prota picked up his fourth at 2:19 of the second before fouling out with 5:35 left in the game.
“(Davidson) has to be on the court,” Grayson said. “He does everything — rebounds, pass, assist, score, play great defense — so he has to be on the court.”
Davidson scored 22 points in the Dec. 13 win over the Ironmen.
It was evident early that Davidson was missed when Steel Valley turned a 10-9 deficit into a 24-10 lead with Davidson on the bench for the majority of the run.
Being in foul trouble also forced Grayson to alter his man-to-man defense, transition offense philosophy.
“It changes everything they do,” Wellman said. “They full-court pressed us like tonight, but our guards handled it well. They had to foul. We put them in no other situation.”