ERIE — The Mars boys basketball team was “Dunn” in by one prodigious shooting quarter.
Girard junior guard Joe Dunn scored all 16 of his points in the second quarter on 6-of-6 shooting — including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from 75 feet away that gave the YellowJackets a 37-30 lead at halftime — on the way to a 66-62 win over the Planets in the first round of the PIAA Class AAA playoffs Friday night.
Fans in the Hammermill Center on the campus of Gannon University were still buzzing about the shot at the start of the third quarter.
“The way he was shooting, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he dropkicked it in,” said Mars coach Rob Carmody of Dunn.
Dunn’s scintillating second quarter overshadowed a strong shooting effort from Mars, which hit six 3-pointers in the first half and shot 58 percent from the floor after an 0-for-5 start.
Mars overcame a 7-0 deficit at the start of the game with nine straight points, keyed by a pair of 3-pointers from Matt Getsy, and led 14-12 late in the second quarter.
Mars (21-5), never led again.
“Obviously, you look back and say, ‘I wish we would have made this play,’ or, ‘I wish we would have done this differently,’” Carmody said. “By no means, though, did we come out and play poorly. They played well and we answered.”
Girard’s red-hot shooting had something to do with that. The YellowJackets (21-5) shot 15-of-23 from the field in the first half and 23-of-40 in the game.
Girard began the second half like they ended the first, scoring the first 10 points of the third quarter to take a 47-30 advantage.
Mars, though, stormed back with 12 straight points of its own to close the gap to 47-42 at the end of three quarters.
“With a team like Mars, as well-coached as they are, we knew they weren’t just going to go away,” Girard coach Darrin Mayes said.
Alex Locher keyed the run for the Planets with seven points off the bench, including a 3-pointer with two seconds on the clock.
Locher, a senior, has played sparingly in his four years with the Planets because of a slew of injuries.
“He’s a guy you really feel for,” Carmody said. “He’s probably played less than a full season of basketball in his four years. He could just never get healthy. We’re down by 17 and he’s playing like ‘What do we have to lose?’ He went to the basket and made shots and that was exactly what we needed.”
Girard built leads of 11 and 10 points in the fourth quarter, stiff arming Mars’ comeback attempts. The Planets got as close as 64-61 with 27 seconds remaining in the fourth, but Girard salted away the game at the free-throw line, making all 10 of their free throws in the game in the final quarter.
“They have the record they have for a reason,” Carmody said. “They had won 10 straight games before losing the District 10 championship game to General McLane.”
Mitch Buzard led Mars with 18 points and Getsy added 12.
Joe Swanson scored 24 points to pace Girard. Swanson and forward Brian McNally doubled Mars’ 6-foot-8 center Josh Goetz and held the senior to seven points and five rebounds.
“We knew we had to do something on him,” said Mayes. “He’s a great player.”
The loss was the second straight for Mars, which fell in the WPIAL semifinals last week to eventual champion Montour. Girard will play Montour Tuesday in the second round of the state playoffs.
Still, the Mars seniors leave with the greatest three-year run in the program’s history.
“They’ve won 57 games,” Carmody said. “They have done so many great things for the program and the community, there’s nothing to hang their heads about.”