By Jim Hunter
Special to The Meadville Tribune
The youthful ’Dogs struggled in Hoops 101 on Friday night: How to finish a game.
Allowing a 27-17 halftime lead to slip away, Meadville opened its Region 5 season on a downer as Sharon “pressed” its way back for a 61-58 victory at Sharon High School.
Coach Mark McElhinny’s Bulldogs are now 1-3 on the season.
Scoring the last eight points at the foul line in the second quarter, the MASH unit built its 10-point halftime margin.
However, McElhinny still felt uneasy heading into the second half.
“Although we scored the last eight points, I felt the game slipping away from us in the closing minutes of the first half,” said McElhinny. “I knew the first three minutes in the second half were going to be very important.”
McElhinny’s vibes were.
After a horrendous first-half shooting performance (6-for-37), Sharon opened the third period on-fire as Jason Austin and Carnell Hawkins bombed in consecutve 3-pointers and Jamal Walker scored inside to cut Meadville’s lead to 30-25 with 6:32 showing on the clock.
McElhinny called timeout. To no avail.
After Austin sank two free throws, Hawkins connected on another trey to give the Tigers their first lead (31-30) since leading 9-7 in the first quarter.
In that three-minute stretch, the Bulldogs committed five turnovers.
“They (Sharon) were more patient with the ball than they were in the first half ... and we weren’t,” said McElhinny. “We definitely had a problem with ball security in the opening stages of the third quarter.”
The MASH unit regrouped as junior Faizon McClure crashed the offensive glass for a bucket and completed a three-point play a minute later to give the ’Dogs a 39-37 lead with 1:59 remaining in the third period.
Knotted at 42-42 heading into the fourth quarter, Walker — Sharon’s inside force — immediately scored on an inside move to give the Tigers a 44-42 lead.
The Bulldogs trailed the rest of the way.
Trailing 55-48, the ’Dogs made a late push as senior Jake Gregor and junior Jason Clune recorded back-to-back buckets within 20 seconds to cut Sharon’s lead to 55-52 with 3:19 showing on the clock.
With 50 seconds left in the game, McClure scored inside and Gregor followed with an eight-foot jumper to get within 59-58 with 16 ticks remaining on the clock.
The Bulldogs then trapped Sharon’s Mark Henry in the backcourt and nearly tied him up, but McClure was called for a foul.
Henry sank both of his freebies.
Gregor’s possible game-tying 3-point attempt at the buzzer bounced off the front part of the rim ... game over.
“We just have to learn how to finish games ... and we will,” said McElhinny. “The loss is disappointing, but the kids played hard.”
’Dog Bones: McClure and Clune led MASH with 18 points apiece and Gregor also hit double digits with 12 ... Clune also was a force on the boards with a game-high 17 rebounds ... Waller, who scored 16 points in the second half, paced Sharon with a game-high 24 ... The green-light Tigers jacked up 23 3-point attempts, hitting only seven of them. In the pivotal fourth quarter, Sharon didn’t attempt one 3-point attempt.