WHEELING - On a night when Akil Blount went over 1,000 points for his sparkling four-year career, the Linsly stalwart made it even more memorable by leading the Cadets into the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference Class 2A basketball championship game.
Blount, headed to Florida A&M University next fall to play football, poured in 30 points and yanked down 13 rebounds Tuesday evening as Linsly prevailed 74-68 against Steubenville Catholic in a heart-stopping overtime battle at the noisy Stifel Field House.
Coach James Wallace's Cadets are making their second appearance in the OVAC finals since the tournament format was adopted five years ago. Linsly, the second-seed, will carry a 12-8 record into the 12:15 p.m. Saturday contest against top-seeded River, a 55-36 winner against Shadyside in the other 2A semifinal contest. In their last title-game appearance, the Cadets private school fell in three overtime to Shadyside.
Linsly’s Anthony Wallace (14) shoots over SCC’s Ryan Fletcher (24) during Tuesday night’s game.
Photo by Jim Elliott
Although Steubenville Catholic dominated much of the first half while building a 34-26 advantage, the Crusaders lost the lead and had to rally in the last minute of regulation, finally knotting the score at 64-64 to force overtime when Michael Carapellotti buried a 3-pointer from the right sideline.
Two seconds remained on the clock when Carapellotti rubbed off a screen and got open in front of the Steubenville Catholic bench as his teammates and coaches leaped to their feet celebrating when the ball dropped cleanly through the cords.
Jibri Blount, Akil's freshman brother who plays with the coolness of a veteran that has been in these situations countless imes, began the extra session with a one-handed kiss off the glass that gave the Cadets the lead for good.
Both teams turned the ball over a couple times before Jibri Blount had a chance on the inside again and he was fouled while attempting a shot. He put in the first attempt but had the second shot bounce off the rim, leaving the score at 67-64 with 1:51 remaining.
Steubenville Catholic twice had opportunities to cut into the lead but missed on open looks at the basket before Akil Blount was fouled after yanking down a rebound. He cashed 1 of 2 attempts from the foul line as did sophomore guard Anthony Wallace for a 69-64 Linsly advantage with less than a minute to play.
The Crusaders countered when Ryan Fletcher cashed a leaner from in front the basket, However, they immediately had to foul with 21 seconds left and Wallace capped off a solid 22-point, nine-rebound evening for himself by hitting both ends of the double bonus.
Fletcher added two free throws at the other end, pulling Steubenville Catholic to within 72-68 but Akil Blount was fouled with 6 seconds remaining and put the finishing touches on the victory by netting two more foul shots.
Akil Blount scored 19 of his 30 points during the second half and the overtime. He reached the 1,000-point plateau midway through the third quarter with a hoop-and-harm maneuver as he scored the basket on a neat spin move, was fouled and knocked down the free throw.
''Down the stretch you don't want anyone else with the ball in his hands than your senior leader,'' Coach Wallace said of Blount.
The Linsly coach also wasn't surprised when his team was able to pull out such a hard-earned victory despite being behind during most of the first three quarters.
''Mentally, we've got some really tough kids that have been in so many games when we have been down and fought back,'' Wallace said. ''I could see it in their eyes that we were going to give our best shot, win or lose. We left everything on the court and that's what you have to do to win big games.''
The Cadets certainly had to overcome their share of adversity, especially during the first half when the well-disciplined, pass-and-cut Crusaders offense was having its way. Steubenville Catholic found the back door to the basket open time and again. When the Crusaders didn't make the shot, they usually wound up the foul line and hit enough free throws to lead 17-12 after the opening quarter and 34-26 at the half.
''Steubenville Central was very well-prepared and did a lot of things that we are not great at defending,'' Wallace admitted. ''For the first half no matter what we threw at them defensively, zone or man, they ran their cuts so effectively that we did not get a lot of stops.
''In the second half we were able to use our length inside and we made a lot of hustle plays that led to some key steals and easy baskets at our end.''
Steubenville Catholic Central coach Sean Tucker was extremely disappointed that the patience the Crusaders displayed early in the game wasn't there at crunch time.
''The unforced turnovers and offensive rebounds we gave up were the two main reasons we lost this game," Tucker said.
''We only had six offensive rebounds and they were well over double digits which led to 20-plus points for them. What it all boils down to is that if we don't protect the ball and don't keep the other team off the offensive boards we're not going to be successful.''
Akil Blount and Anthony Wallace, who was 8 of 9 from the foul line in the fourth quarter and overtime, were Linsly's only double-figure scorers. Jibri Blount contributed eight points, all of which were scored in the second half.
Steubenville Catholic's offense was paced by Brannt Pieniazek and Carapellotti with 15 points each, while Brenton Colabella and Zach Herrington added 11 each.
Carapellotti, whose only 3-pointer was the one that forced overtime, scored 10 of his total in the opening half and the other five in the fourth quarter as the Crusaders erased a 62-58 deficit in the final 30 seconds of regulation.