Clairton likely to have its hand full with Lincoln Park
You can point to many different reasons why Clairton has been able to make its improbable playoff run these past few weeks.
Interior defense sure would be way down on that list.
The Bears have struggled with big men all season long and that has continued into the postseason, where Vincentian's 6-foot-5 forward John Bray dropped 31 points on Clairton in the WPIAL semifinals and DuBois Central Catholic's bruising 6-4 forward Chris Marshall scored 32 points and grabbed 17 rebounds during Tuesday's second-round PIAA Class A game.
All due respect to Bray and Marshall, but those two pale in comparison to what stands in the way of Clairton (12-11) and its first trip to the Western Region Finals in two decades when they take on WPIAL runner-up Lincoln Park (19-7) today at Chartiers Valley — the 6-10 shot-blocking machine named Devontae Watson.
“Boy, you have to be impressed with that guy,” Clairton coach Von Pitts said. “We haven't seen anybody like him this year.”
Well, maybe not anybody like Watson, but the Bears did have an up close look at the Division I recruit in early January.
Watson had 28 points and 22 rebounds in a 73-46 win over the Bears, who were playing without Desimon Green at the time and reeling.
Since then, the Bears have gotten Green back, have gotten much better, but Watson has, too.
Watson put up a triple-double on the board Tuesday against Elk County Catholic when he scored 31 points, grabbed 22 rebounds and blocked 11 shots in an easy 66-47 win over the Crusaders.
Watson has been putting up numbers like that regularly.
Watson's last three playoff games, (WPIAL championship and first two rounds of PIAA tournament) he has averaged 21 points, 18.3 rebounds and 10 blocks per game. For the season, Watson is averaging 16 points, 18 rebounds and 12 blocked shots.
Knowing that, you would think that Clairton would stay far away from Watson.
“We can't avoid him,” Pitts said. “The more we avoid him is the more we are playing to his advantage. I told the kids that we are going to attack him from every angle.”
Teams that have been successful against Lincoln Park this year have been able to pull Watson away from the basket and force Chaquille Pratt to shoot jump shots, rather than drive to the hoop and allow Watson to clean up any misses.
“We are going to have to try to keep Watson away from the rim and make everybody else beat you,” Pitts said. “We want to make Pratt shoot jump shots. What he beat us with before was put backs. When we did go man, I put Parrish Middlebrook on him.
"Watson is not a physical guy, and Parrish pushed him away and had success early on. When Pratt penetrates to the hoop he missed a lot of shots and Watson was there to put them back.”
But Pratt can do some damage as well. The 6-3 swingman averages 22 points per game. The Leopards also have Cornell transfer B.J. Lipke along with two other kids who can score in Kyle Taylor and Sharron Moreland-Jones
“We can't avoid them and we are going to go right after them,” Pitts said.
Having Green, a Division I football recruit, battling inside with Watson will help the Bears this time around, but Clairton will have to shoot the ball much better than they did Tuesday against DuBois.
The Bears have capable shooters like Middlebrook, who scored 26 in a first-round game last week, along with sophomore Bryan Clifford and Tyler Boyd.
“We are going to have to play a perfect game,” Pitts said. “This is a game that is going to be different than any other we have played this year. I guarantee we aren't going to back down. We are going to go out there and fight. Nobody has given us a chance all year so why should this be any different?”