ERIE — The mood around the concession stand at McDowell High School was not as festive as one might expect following a key Region 7 victory by the Trojans.
In fact, as the stragglers were leaving the gym, one spectator wearing a blue and grey long sleeve T-shirt was overheard saying to one of the concession stand helpers: “They outworked us.”
The ‘they’ that fan was referring to was the Meadville boys basketball team. More specifically, it was the Meadville boys basketball team minus three starters, as one player was out with an injury and two more were out for academic reasons.
So, Meadville put out the best five players they had available to start the game. And while McDowell earned the victory, 67-42, the short-handed Meadville team earned a measure of respect, not just from one McDowell fan, but from the Bulldogs’ own coach as well.
“The kids played hard,” said MASH helmsman Mark McElhinny. “We knew they would. We knew they would play hard. We knew they’d be diving on the floor and giving McDowell everything they could handle. I was proud of them in that respect.
“But I thought we had some breakdowns in the third quarter, mental breakdowns. We got tired. (McDowell) had a little more depth than us.”
Indeed the Trojans did. McDowell would send 13 players to the court last night — 10 of whom scored. Meadville went eight deep, giving the Bulldogs as many subs as the Trojans had trainers.
“But it’s good for our young kids to be playing in these types of games,” said McElhinny. “Hopefully we can get everybody back and healthy. It makes us a better team.”
McElhinny said he hopes the rest of the team will be able to play by next week.
“But this crew will never back down from anybody,” he said. “That’s why I love coaching these guys.”
McDowell gave Meadville plenty of excuses to back down last night, beginning with a starting lineup that included several players that were both larger more experienced than the ones Meadville was sending out. The Trojans also boast a couple high-end college recruits in 6-foot-6 senior Jaedan Jefferson and 6-foot-7 junior William Jeffress.
Yet, McDowell didn’t exactly find the sledding smooth in the early minutes. The Bulldogs attacked the ball defensively, going up with whichever Trojan was shooting the ball, no matter how many inches they were surrendering.
And by the halfway point of the first quarter, McDowell had logged just four points — one field goal and two free throws.
On the other side, however, Meadville had zero points. And that scoreless streak would persist further into the first quarter as McDowell built up a 13-0 lead with 1:15 left.
Hayden Parks finally pulled the lid off when he hit a floater in the lane with 1:08 left.
But McDowell answered with four more markers to make it a 17-2 game.
Here’s another point where the Bulldogs could have packed things in. That lead was getting out of hand early. But Meadville didn’t let it get silly.
From this point until there was 3:30 left in the second quarter, the Bulldogs would outscore McDowell 16-8, cutting the Trojans lead down to 25-18.
“Coach McElhinny does a great job with that team,” said McDowell head coach Kevin O’Connor. “And they came out of that time out and — boom — they were tougher than us for about a quarter and a half. So, credit to them.”
Charlie Waid did some great stuff for Meadville during this stretch, scoring on a couple drives and a put-back to score eight points in the second. Savior Hughes, who hustled all night for loose balls and rebounds and defensive turnovers, had four points during this stretch. And Alex McElhinny knocked in a 3-pointer.
McDowell went into halftime with its lead down to nine at 29-20.
Meadville would hang with McDowell for the first couple minutes of the third, with Sam Burchard scoring a three-point play and Alex McElhinny hitting a long deuce out of the corner to make it 33-25.
Yet, here’s where McDowell regained control. The Trojans started turning the Bulldogs over and getting extra scoring opportunities. Jonah Bock took advantage with back-to-back treys. And Jeffress was up and in for a layup, and just like that McDowell had itself a healthy lead again at 41-25.
“We just wanted out guys to play one-on-one, just guard the basketball,” O’Connor said about the second-half message to his players. “(Meadville) put their heads down and they drove in the second quarter, they were beating us on those UCLA cuts to the basket. We needed to be a little more physical with them. And I think we were.”
The Bulldogs would not be able to come up with a counter punch the rest of the way, as fouls piled up and the Trojans continued to bring in fresh legs off the bench.
Jeffress would eventually lead all scorers with 19 points. The Trojans next highest scorer was Max Paris with eight.
For Meadville, Waid finished with 16 points while Alex McElhinny had eight.