North Hills ends 33-year section title drought, keeps North Allegheny out of playoffs

Chris Harlan
| Friday, Feb. 5, 2016, 11:21 p.m.

There's a banner in North Hills' gym that lists the boys basketball team's section titles.

It stops with 1983.

“It's been awhile,” junior Nick Smith said. “That's all we've talked about in practice. We were all pointing at that saying: ‘Put us up there.' ”

Soon, it will say 2016.

North Hills has counted 33 years since its last section title, but ended that wait Friday night with a 60-47 victory over Section 3-AAAA rival North Allegheny in front of a capacity crowd. The win in the section finale leaves North Hills (12-8, 9-4) tied with Central Catholic and Pine-Richland atop the standings.

“For us to have that up there is going to be amazing,” Smith said.

Tom Maloney, who coached North Hills in 1983, was among those there to watch.

“It was a great atmosphere,” Indians coach Buzz Gabos said. “I'm proud that (the team) played as well as they did and won it on our home floor.”

The loss knocked North Allegheny (10-9, 6-6) out of the playoffs for the first time in coach Dave DeGregorio's 12 seasons. A win would have forced a fourth-place tie. Instead, Butler (7-5) finished alone in fourth with a win Friday over Seneca Valley. North Allegheny last missed the playoffs in 2003, before DeGregorio arrived.

NA suffered section losses this season by four, three and two points. In a Jan. 12 matchup, North Hills won 76-74 at North Allegheny.

“I'm disappointed because we didn't get to where we needed to get to,” DeGregorio said. “It's frustrating as a coach.”

Smith led five Indians in double figures with a game-high 18 points.

North Hills senior Ishmael Waldron added 11 points and 18 rebounds, with his mother and grandmother in from Bronx, N.Y., to watch him for the first time. The 6-foot-6 forward scored the Indians' first seven points on senior night, energized the crowd with a fourth-quarter dunk and helped his team outrebound North Allegheny, 37-29.

Waldron fought inside to match North Allegheny forwards Isaac Barnes and Griffin Sestilli. Barnes had 15 points and 13 rebounds.

“I felt like I had to, because Barnes and Grif are so big,” Waldron said. “They're always killing on the offensive glass. I felt like I was important tonight.”

North Hills had only a five-point lead late in the third quarter but pulled away in the fourth with a 14-2 run that drew points from five scorers. The Indians shot 54 percent from the field in the second half.

“We were pretty efficient in the second half,” Gabos said. “We did a good job of just staying patient and made the extra pass.”

North Allegheny shot just 31 percent overall and was 7 for 27 from the 3-point arc.

North Hills' Kamron Taylor scored 11 points, and Luke Chutko and Andrew Paulauskas each added 10. Keegan Phillips added 11 points for North Allegheny.

With 33 seconds left in the third, North Hills lead was only 36-31 after a layup by NA's Isaiah Zeise. But Smith answered with a 3-pointer from atop the key to start the 14-2 run. Each time North Allegheny tried to steal momentum in the second half, North Hills grabbed it back.

Only twice in DeGregorio's 12 seasons has NA not finished first or second in the section.

“It's so hard to do,” Gabos said. “And for so long, they made it look so easy.”

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