LICK-WILMERDING — After getting blasted by Stuart Hall in a 24-point blowout just a week-and-a-half ago, and heading into Saturday’s rematch without dynamic scorer Allen Wilson, it would have been easy to write off the Lick-Wilmerding Tigers.
They had other plans, taking the BCL West-leading Knights down to the wire, falling 57-54 but showing that nobody should count them out in the second half of the season.
Senior center Zach Johnson dominated all afternoon for the host Tigers, with 29 points and 16 rebounds. He had four straight rebounds as he tipped a ball four times before putting it in late in the first quarter, scored six in the second quarter as Lick-Wilmerding (15-6, 1-4) went into the break trailing by just five and was instrumental as the Tigers went on a 10-0 run to tie the game late in the third.
“Zach is our All-American,” said head coach Eliot Smith. “He’ll bring it every night, but we need the other guys to support him. He needed help with breaking the press, and we had other guys produce today, hit shots and give Zach the excitement to keep going.”
Stuart Hall (16-4, 5-0) came out swinging following the halftime break, having already scored the last five points of the second quarter, including a Spencer O’Brien-Steele and-1 with less than a second left in the half, to take a 26-21 lead. That lead quickly grew to 10 as Miles Amos scored seven of his team-high 19 over the first three minutes of the third quarter, and after Nigel Burris and Phin Horowitz traded threes, O’Brien-Steele scored again to make it 40-30, which seemed to kick Johnson into a new gear.
“We realized coming into this game that if we wanted to play with them, we had to be physical,” Johnson said. “We spent the whole week hitting each other in practice.”
Johnson scored on the following possession, assisted on a basket by freshman Colly Urdan, and then hit a rare 3-pointer to cut the lead to three before picking up another assist on a game-tying three from Horowitz.
Burris quickly put the Knights back on top with a three of his own, but Johnson got the final basket of the quarter to enter the fourth with the Tigers behind by a single point.
The gap would never be larger than four over the final quarter, with Justin Detweiler tying the game at 47 with his lone three points on the night. A Burris 3-pointer with 3:16 left gave the Knights the lead for good, though a pair of baskets from Johnson would cut the lead to two down the stretch. When he cut it to 54-52 with 22.4 left, neither team was anywhere near reaching the bonus, and the final segment of the game was a parade of fouls.
Stuart Hall finally got in the bonus with 15.3 left and Burris swished both free throws, but Johnson scored his final points of the day to give the Tigers one last chance. Amos made one of two at the line with 6.4 left, and after three more Stuart Hall fouls, one last chance from Horowitz to tie the game fell short and allowed the visitors to hang on and maintain their perfect league record.
“Give them credit,” said Stuart Hall head coach Charley Johnson. “We weren’t perfect, but (Lick-Wilmerding) played a good game.”
Amos also had six rebounds and five assists to go with his 19 points, Burris scored 16 and Tomas Wolber, traditionally a facilitator on offense and a hard-nosed defender, scored seven, including a bucket in the lane in the final minute to make it 54-50.
“Tomas is a multi-purpose player,” said Amos. “He can do everything you need, and it’s just amazing when he can step up like that especially when it’s not expected of him.”
With the sophomore class, including Burris, on a school trip to Costa Rica next week, the Knights won’t be back in action until the 23rd. Lick-Wilmerding hosts Urban (7-12, 2-2) on Tuesday before taking a week-and-a-half off for finals. Wilson is expected back soon, and Zac Panoplos, one of the seniors in the Tigers’ lineup, could return by the end of the month.