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Plum's ugly win forges 1st-place tie with Gateway

| Friday, Jan. 24, 2014, 11:48 p.m.

Some basketball teams are oblivious when it comes to style points, how they look performing their craft. But even the best ones manage to find success without the garnish and frills.

Plum's game Friday night at Gateway had all the aesthetic charm of a ragged-edged unsanded woodshop project, but despite pedestrian offensive numbers and a bad night at the free-throw line, the Mustangs earned a passing grade — and more importantly a 44-35 victory that put them back into a tie for first place in Section 2-AAAA with the host Gators.

“Chances are, when the game is ugly, it usually benefits us,” Plum coach Ron Richards said. “It was our M.O. to win that way for years. I don't know what it is.”

Sophomore guard James Edwards continues to grow up before Mustangs fans' eyes. He scored a game-high 19 points, including four 3-pointers as Plum (14-2, 8-2) rebounded from a double-overtime loss to McKeesport and avenged an earlier loss to Gateway (12-6, 8-2).

Plum went 9 for 19 on free throws against McKeesport.

“A win is a win,” Edwards said. “This was the kind of game where the team that deserved it more was going to win. Our defense made some stops toward the end.”

On Friday night, Plum made just four 2-point field goals and shot 17 for 33 from the foul line, 11 for 22 in the fourth quarter when it finally peeled away. The second quarter — for the teams and those in attendance — was like wading through knee-deep water. Gateway outscored Plum 4-2 and the Mustangs took a 19-16 lead into halftime.

Neither team was erratic on offense, but neither could sustain a scoring run.

“We didn't have a lot of bad 2-point attempts either,” Richards said. “I don't think we were settling. Gateway's just a tough team to shoot over top of. Our plans was to go inside, but it was tough to do that.”

The lead never got above five in the third quarter and Edwards connected on a pair of 3s to give Plum a 30-29 advantage heading to the fourth.

Gateway's Shomari Thomas, who flipped over and slammed his head off the court while attempting a layup in the third but returned after some wooziness, made a 3 with 2:46 left in the fourth to tie it 35-35.

There were no field goals for either team from there, as Plum converted 9 of 16 foul shots to gradually extend the lead. Edwards made 3 of 6 in that span, including a pair with 42.3 seconds to make it 42-35.

Gateway clearly missed its leading scorer, Delvon Randall, who did not play because of an illness. He scored 24 against Plum in the teams' first meeting.

“He's their best penetration defender,” Richards said. “I hope he feels better but I wasn't exactly sad that he wasn't here.”

Thomas and Tom Kromka, who did a solid job of sealing off the paint defensively, scored 10 apiece for the Gators, who were 8 of 18 at the foul line with one 3-pointer.

Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at bbeckner@tribweb.com.

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