SLIPPERY ROCK —
“That,” said Meadville’s head boys basketball coach Mark McElhinny, “is called getting over the hump.”
The hump: Meadville’s unfortunate habit during the early part of the season of giving up the lead in the fourth quarter.
Getting over it: Finally breaking the habit on Friday night, hanging on for a 50-46 victory over Region 5 opponent Slippery Rock on the road.
“We finally finished the night,” said Bulldogs’ starter Jason Clune. “That’s big.”
McElhinny agreed, saying, “It was a lot closer than we wanted it to be at the end of the game, again. But we finished the game, made some foul shots down the stretch. So, that’s good for a young team to get that out of the way.”
Meadville led the entire night, but never by more than eight points. And the Bulldogs went into the fourth quarter up just two at 33-31. But MASH played perhaps their best four minutes of basketball to start the fourth — moving the rock on offense, getting stops on defense. And that amounted to an 8-0 run for the ’Dogs, giving them a 41-31 advantage with around four minutes to play.
Needing to turn the tide, Slippery Rock went to the full-court press on defense and that netted some positive results for the Rockets. Meadville lost a few possessions, and the Rockets started chipping away at the lead.
The Bulldogs had, unfortunately, been down this road before.
“It was like, ‘Again?!’ said Clune. “How long is this going to keep happening?”
Things got really desperate with 17 seconds remaining when Slippery Rock’s Brady Kadlubek sunk a 3-pointer to trim Meadville’s lead to two points at 48-46.
Meadville inbounded the ball to Clune. But he got trapped at the sideline and lost the ball out of bounds, giving it back to the Rockets with 14 ticks left.
On the ensuing play, Meadville did a nice job defensively, keeping the Rockets away from the basket. Finally with 3.7 seconds left, Kadlubek leaned into Faizon McClure with the ball, trying to draw a shooting foul. Instead, he was whistled for a travel. The Slippery Rock fans hooted and hollered. But the ball went back to Meadville just the same.
This time, Clune was fouled bringing the ball in. He sunk both, making it a two possession game with about three seconds to go. The Bulldogs had finally left that pesky hump in the rearview mirror.
“We had a 10-point lead in the fourth and we let it dwindle away, so there are still concerns about that,” said McElhinny. “But just the fact that you get over that hump that first time is big.”
Clune was 6-for-8 from the foul line in the fourth and finished the night with a team-high 22 points. Jake Gregor followed with eight points; he had four in the final frame.
The Bulldogs also got some important minutes from its bench in the fourth quarter. Nathan Martin had a pair of buckets in the fourth. He finished the game with seven points. Derek Niemann also sunk a key field goal in the final frame.
“Those guys stepped up,” said Clune. “We had guys in foul trouble. I was in foul trouble. So we needed them to step up and they did.”
There was, as Clune said, a lot of fouling going on. Along with himself and McClure in foul trouble most of the night, starter Shequon Lindsey fouled out about a minute into the fourth quarter.
“That was the game where you have to deal with adversity, the foul trouble, not shooting the ball well,” said McElhinny. “It was just a sloppy game. But the kids, they overcame.”
It was a pretty sloppy game all around for both teams. There were 16 traveling violations on the night. That, mixed with being on the road, plus a Christmas break looming, made last night’s fourth-quarter hump one of the steepest Meadville has had to climb this year.
Yet, the ’Dogs finally held on.
“We didn’t play our best, but we got the win,” said Clune. “That’s all that matters.”
With the win, Meadville improves to 2-4 overall and 1-2 in Region 5.
Slippery Rock falls 3-3 overall and 1-2 in the region.
The Rockets were led by Jake Whitmer’s 12 points. Kadlubek and Matt Badger both scored nine.