MOON TWP — In the season’s first month, Montour boys basketball coach Adam Kaufman said he was “an idiot.”
He looks pretty smart today.
Kaufman and his staff scrapped their pressure, trapping defense after an 8-4 start and adopted a more simplistic approach.
One of those four losses was a 71-68 setback to Mars in December.
This time around, Montour showed off its new defense and bottled up the Planets on the way to a 61-52 win in a WPIAL Class AAA semifinal at Moon High School Tuesday night.
“We looked at each other and said, ‘This just isn’t us.’ We were uncomfortable as coaches and uncomfortable as players,” Kaufman said.
Montour hasn’t lost since and will play Chartiers Valley in the WPIAL championship Friday.
Mars wanted an up-tempo game. Montour wanted nothing of it.
After a back-and-forth first half saw the Planets head into the break trailing 30-27, Montour took the air out of the ball in the third quarter.
The two teams combined for just 12 shots in the frame. The Spartans made four of their six — all 3-pointers.
Mars managed just five points in the third quarter.
“Offensively, we kind of bogged ourselves down,” said Mars coach Rob Carmody. “We stopped doing what we were effective with in the first half. We threw poor passes into the post and we did not look to be aggressive.
“Credit them,” Carmody added. “They got the game pace where they wanted it.”
The key to the stall was Montour point guard Devin Wilson, who was adept at playing keep-away.
“If you fall behind, you kind of play into his hands,” Carmody said of Wilson. “He’s very hard to get the ball from.”
Montour shot 20-of-30 from the field. Mars was good in its own right, hitting 16 of its 29 shots. The problem, though, was the low number of field-goal attempts.
“You have to play your way and they have to play their way,” Carmody said. “When you get to this point, the team that gets to play their way wins. They were better at it than us.”
Mars (21-4) had the game going its way in the first quarter, leading 15-10 late.
But Dustin Sleva hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to close the gap to 15-13. Montour hit shots in the final second of the first, second and third quarters — all provided huge momentum swings.
Half of Montour’s field goals were 3-pointers. Robert Julian had five of them and finished with a game-high 17 points.
“We did some very uncharacteristic things on defense,” Carmody said. “We didn’t talk through our switches and left some guys open. And they hit them.”
Julian’s 3-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer gave the Spartans a 42-32 lead.
Mars trimmed that advantage to four with 55 seconds remaining in the game, but Montour scored the final five points to close out the win.
Josh Goetz scored 12 points to lead four Mars players in double digits.
Zach May added 11 points off the bench and Owen Nearhoof and Matt Getsy each scored 10 for the Planets.
All is not lost for Mars, however. The Planets will be either the third or fourth team out of the WPIAL in the PIAA Class AAA playoffs, which begin March 8.
“We have another tournament to play,” Carmody said. “I get to be with these seniors again. They mean so much to me, so much to this program. This is just a group of guys who have busted their tails. For me, whether it’s the state playoffs or a rec league tournament, I get at least another week with these guys and be in the gym with them.
“For those guys, this hurts,” Carmody added. “But they’ll take a deep breath and decide, ‘Hey, we have more games to play.’”
Devin Wilson 3-3 6-11 12, Justin Hill 3-3 1-4 7, Kevin Scuilli 5-9 2-2 15, Kyle Kutchman 1-2 0-0 2, Robert Julian 5-7 2-3 17, Lamontae Harrison 1-5 0-0 2, Dustin Sleva 2-3 0-0 6. Totals: 20-30 11-20 61.
Garrett Ashbaugh 0-1 0-0 0, Owen Nearhoof 1-5 8-9 10, Matt Getsy 4-7 0-1 10, Mitch Buzard 3-7 3-4 9, Josh Goetz 5-5 2-2 12, Zach May 3-4 2-3 11, Alex Locher 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 16-29 15-19 52.
Montour 13 17 12 19—61
Mars15 12 5 20—52
3-point goals: Montour 10 (Scuilli 3, Julian 5, Sleva 2). Mars 5 (May 3, Getsy 2).
Friday: Mars vs. TBD in first round of the PIAA Class AAA playoffs