Trib Cup: Neshannock boys riding early wave of success
The Neshannock boys basketball team is riding a wave of success this season as the Lancers enter 2014 on a six-game winning streak.
Led by coach John Corey, the Lancers sit atop Section 2-AA with an 8-1 overall record and 3-0 mark in section play. The early success is nothing new for this Neshannock group, which had an identical record through nine games last season.
For Corey, it's all about continuing to play the style they're accustomed to in order to lock up a possible section championship.
“We've been fortunate to play well through this first month so we just have to keep it up,” he said. “We have a lot more basketball to play and if you look at our schedule, we have some tough competition coming up.”
For their play this season, the Lancers are highlighted as this week's Trib Total Media/WPXI High School Sports Award feature team, and they are a primary reason why Neshannock is in sixth place in the Class AA standings.
Neshannock's early fortunes can be attributed to having seven regular players return from last year's team and a newfound scheme of consistent scoring.
Last year, the Lancers relied heavily on the production of Ernie Burkes. The senior guard is back this season, scoring 17.9 points per game, but the load is no longer on his shoulders as several other players have stepped up.
Senior guard Matt McKinney leads the team, averaging 19.2 points. Sophomore Ethan Moose (11.9 ppg), Jimmy Medure (8.8), Ty Haswell (8.1) and Matt Seltzer (4.6) round out a formidable rotation.
“We're really seeing this year the importance of all the guys giving a solid collective effort,” Corey said. “A lot of these guys were sophomores and juniors last year and are now juniors and seniors.
“A lot of guys have stepped up to contribute and you can see the maturation still taking shape, and that's only going to make us better.”
Corey said he likes that the Lancers play an unselfish brand of basketball with their ability to distribute the basketball and play fierce defense. Neshannock while scoring a section-best 80 points per game, also allows a section-low 50 points per game.
Combined with the experience that has been gained in recent years and unselfish play, Corey said this group is as consistent a team as he's ever coached.
“We've got the ability to play several different types of defenses because the older guys are understanding the game more,” he said. “We've changed our defense on the fly and altered the styles and we've handled it well.”
While his numbers on the stat sheet are modest, Corey said the return of Marcus Giangiuli from a season-ending injury last year will be crucial down the stretch. Corey described Giangiuli as a defender who would “go through a brick wall for this team.”
“You need layers like Marcus as the season wears on,” Corey said. “I'm sure he'll help keep us fresh down the stretch and have no problem defending some of these good players we're about to see.”
The Lancers will have their first opportunity of the new year to see where they stand in the section when they meet also unbeaten Section 2 foe Aliquippa (5-3, 3-0) Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Brian Graham is a freelance writer.