By Pete Chiodo
An often used coaching mantra is to never look ahead. But Hickory head boys basketball coach Nick Cannone couldn’t help but notice a matchup with Meadville on the horizon. And he knew what had to be done.
“You know what, we worked on our zone (defense) for four or five practices,” said Cannone. “You’re not supposed to look ahead. ... I don’t want to say we were practicing for Meadville. But, like, five minutes, eight minutes a day for the last week we were trying to work with it. Because I didn’t want to come up here, come out in man and get into some foul trouble.”
Hickory’s defensive maneuvering paid off as the Hornets scored a crucial Region 5 victory over the Bulldogs, 57-55, Friday at the House of Thrills.
“The zone worked pretty well,” said Cannone. “When you play a team the second time around, you’ve got to have something.”
Hickory’s something keeps the Hornets in the lead in Region 5 at 12-3 overall and 9-1 in conference play.
Meadville, on the other hand, fell to 10-5 overall and 6-4 in the region after losing its third straight. And the Bulldogs are hoping to turn the ship around in order to keep their postseason hopes alive.
“We put ourselves in a little bit of a hole for the playoffs,” said Meadville head coach Norm Price. “We’re 6-4 and we have some difficult games left. We’re in a situation where we need some wins to make the playoffs.”
To do that, the Bulldogs will have to start shooting the ball better. During the last three games, Meadville has been hitting its field goals 38.8 percent of the time. The ’Dogs were shooting 51.1 percent from the floor prior to their three-game skid.
“We’ve got to make shots. We’re not making shots right now,” said Price. “It’s seems like we’re a little bit off in that regard.”
Meadville made 22 of 53 field goals attempts last night against Hickory, which gives the ’Dogs their best shooting percentage (41.5 percent) of the last three games.
However, much of that damage was done inside, and mainly by freshman forward Jason Clune, who had a marvelous contest, making 9 of 14 field goal attempts and going 4-for-4 from the free throw line to score a game-high 22 points.
“I’ve been saying all along, (Clune) is the best 9th grader in the district,” said Price. “And he’s fast becoming one of the best players in the district. I mean, he’s really playing well.”
The rest of the Bulldogs, however, shot just 33.3 percent (13-for-39), including 2-for-13 from the 3-point arc.
“(The zone) wasn’t real good, but it kept them on the perimeter,” said Cannone. “Now, they hurt us inside. But we were worried about (Zak) Price’s bombs.”
Zak Price did hit two treys and ended up scoring 10 points. Donte Hollingsworth also scored 10. Malik Anderson tallied seven. And Trevor Clune ended the game with six points and a team-high 13 rebounds.
Yet, that output could never quite catch Hickory, which got the lead early and hung onto it the whole way by protecting each and every possession.
“I was real happy, three turnovers tonight,” said Cannone. “So, that’s good. On the road, that was good.”
Vincent Mastrian led the way for Hickory with 19 points. Anthony Cannone followed with a dozen. And Donte Green scored nine.
Mastrian and Cannone each knocked down 3-pointers as the Hornets marched out to a 14-11 lead after one quarter. The squad maintained that edge at the half, 27-24. Mastrian had 12 of his points over the first two quarters.
In the third, the Hornets started to pull away, enjoying a nine-point run midway through that pushed them in front 40-30. Hickory went into the fourth quarter leading 48-40. They had scored 21 points in the third, going 3-of-6 from 3-point territory.
What hurt the Hornets in the fourth quarter, however, was their foul shooting. In the final period, the Hornets made just 3-of-9 freebies, and missed all three of their opening tries on a bonus.
Meadville managed to turn those missed opportunities into points. Jason Clune scored six straight for MASH, cutting Hickory’s lead from 55-46 to 55-52 with 27 seconds remaining.
But the Bulldogs couldn’t follow up that run. Matt Votino and Green both hit back ends of a double bonus to bring it back out to a five-point lead at 57-52.
Zak Price then sunk a 3-pointer with two seconds left to put the final points on the board.
“They missed some shots at the end to make the game closer than it really was,” said coach Price.
“(Foul shooting) hurt us against Farrell,” said Cannone, whose team was coming off a 54-53 loss to Farrell on Tuesday. “We were 19 of 29 there and missed some shots at the end.
“To come up here and get a win after we lose to Farrell at home, that says a lot about my guys, that they found a way to get it done.”