Highlands' luck runs out in overtime loss
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Highlands' team bus may have followed a snow plow to its game Friday night, but that didn't guarantee the Golden Rams would have a clear path to the semifinals.
Pushed to overtime for the second time in three nights, Highlands surrendered another second-half lead but couldn't make up for it this time, suffering a 62-59 loss to West Allegheny in a WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinal game at Fox Chapel.
A matchup of upset-driven teams, No. 12 seeded West Allegheny (15-8) used a physical style, attacking the basket and forcing No. 13 Highlands to expend energy on the defensive end.
On Tuesday, Highlands (14-10) blew a 20-point advantage against Laurel Highlands before pulling out an 80-77 win in double overtime.
"I think we were prepared, but we a little tired from the other night," Highlands coach Shawn Bennis said. "We were a little sluggish, definitely at the start.
"They're a good team. They executed well. That's something we need to get better at as a team, but that's on me as a coach, not them."
Highlands can still qualify for the PIAA playoffs if West Allegheny reaches the WPIAL final.
The lead changed hands 10 times before halftime, but Highlands led for much of the second half.
The Rams took a four-point advantage (56-52) on a pair of free throws by Micah Mason with 29 seconds left in regulation.
Highlands led, 53-52, with 1:43 to play in regulation, and Bennis called for the Rams' 4-to-score scheme, basically freezing the ball and chewing clock until a layup opened.
Instead, the Rams hurried a shot, and the Indians got to within 56-55 on a 3 by Matt Morelli.
West Allegheny's Nick Herman scored after a scrum under the basket in the closing seconds of regulation to tie it at 57-57 and force overtime.
"You think maybe there's a foul on the floor or a jump ball there," Bennis said. "Instead, the kid goes straight up and ties the game."
In the extra period, John O'Donnell scored early to give the Indians their first lead since 35-34.
Highlands had 1:03 to work with but turned the ball over with 34.6 seconds.
Herman made a free throw to give West Allegheny a 60-57 advantage, and Mike Trenski made two free throws to make it 60-59 with 25.1 left.
Highlands' forward Andrae Boone made a heads-up play with a steal near midcourt but passed into traffic, forcing another scrum and a foul on Trenski.
That sent O'Donnell to the line, and he made both attempts for a 62-59 lead.
Mason's long 3 with three seconds left hit the back-right side of the rim.
The Rams seemed to force shots and didn't get any shooters in rhythm.
"I think the legs were a little bit gone," Bennis said. "You could see it in our jump shots."
O'Donnell had a game-high 24 points, and Ben Simmen added 15 for West Allegheny.
"They played us soft on the perimeter," West Allegheny coach Josh Bears said. "So, it was settle for 3s or get the ball inside by penetrating. We made an adjustment in the second quarter to attack off the dribble. I give the kids credit for making the adjustments."
Trenski had 17 points, Denzel Carter added 15, Seth Edwards had 11 and Mason 10 for Highlands.
Boone grabbed 14 rebounds, and Edwards had 13.
"It was a good run," Bennis said. "I wish we didn't have to play that (preliminary) round. It was tough to have a game last week, then come back and play double-overtime like that."
Highlands had six 3-pointers after making 13 in the first round.
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