McKeesport boys basketball team eliminated from playoff chase after loss
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It didn't concern McKeesport coach Corey Gadson that he was going to be without his leading scorer and rebounder for the biggest game of the year.
He figured it wasn't going to matter to his players, either, heading into Friday's Section 2-AAAA game against visiting Franklin Regional.
A victory would propel the Tigers into the thick of the playoff race. A loss would eliminate them.
Even if the Tigers were without Khalil Perdue, the combination of playing at home and it being a must-win game surely would be enough.
McKeesport couldn't compensate for Perdue's 19 points and 12 rebounds per game, and Franklin Regional overwhelmed the Tigers on the boards to earn a 68-54 win at Neenie Campbell Gymnasium.
“They wanted it more than us,” Gadson said. “I was disappointed on how we came out. They came out and punched us in the mouth, and we never recovered. We don't deserve to go to the playoffs. You have to earn your right, and we didn't.”
It's the second time in four years that McKeesport (9-10, 5-7) failed to make the postseason.
“It is very hard to win on the road in this section,” Franklin Regional coach Brad Midgely said. “It was a game that I was worried about, but I felt that our guys took a very business-like approach and did what they had to do.”
The win moved Franklin Regional (13-6, 8-4) into a four-way tie for second place in the section with Fox Chapel (15-4, 8-4), Gateway (12-8, 8-4) and Central Catholic (11-8, 8-4) behind front-running Plum (16-2, 10-2).
Franklin Regional received 21 points from guard Matt Renzi, but a slight adjustment by Midgely — he switched Matt Fisch from power forward to small forward and inserted George Brown into the lineup — made all the difference.
“We went with our three bigs, and it worked to our advantage,” Midgely said. “Sometimes those things don't work against a quicker team, but we felt that we had a chance to dominate the boards.”
Brown came off the bench late in the first quarter and dominated. Brown's three putback layups within a 58-second second-quarter span propelled the Panthers on an 11-0 run to open up a 32-18 lead right before halftime.
“When you get those second-chance points, it gives you the luxury of not shooting well on the road compared to home but still getting more opportunities,” Midgely said.
Brown finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds (seven offensive) as Franklin Regional outrebounded McKeesport, 42-21. Fisch added 14 points and seven rebounds.
McKeesport was led by Jordan Payne's 25 points, but nobody else hit double figures or grabbed more than five rebounds.
“Perdue kind of cleans up everything,” Gadson said. “Without him on the floor and cleaning up, we had nothing. We had no inside presence at all. That was the game right there.”
Still, McKeesport was able to stay within striking distance, and when Demetrius Diggs hit a 3-pointer with a minute left in the third, the Tigers climbed within 45-41.
But Franklin Regional answered with a 7-2 run before hitting 10 of 13 free throws in the fourth quarter to put the game away.
“What makes this hurt is that if we would've gotten this one that, we would've had a pretty good look at the playoffs,” Gadson said. “I thought the kids would come out better, but the moment is big and we are talking about 16-year-olds and maybe the moment was a little too big for them.”
Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib.
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