WHEELING - Scoreless in the first half, Cincinnati Archbishop McNicholas guard Danny Byrne drained five of seven shots from behind the 3-point arc during the third and fourth quarters in fueling the Rockets past Wheeling Central, 56-42, Saturday night at Wheeling Jesuit University's Alma Grace McDonough Center.
The victory in the boys' championship game of the Upper Ohio Valley Basketball Tournament enabled the Ohio Division II school to head home with a plus-.500 record on the season at 5-4. Coach Mel Stephens' Maroon Knights ended the 2012 portion of their schedule at 2-4.
With both teams playing lock down defense, the opportunities inside were few and far between and resulted in a low-scoring half-court battle that wasn't decided until Byrne got the hot hand.
The eight-point average scorer entering Saturday night's game, Byrne swished a follow shot for his first points of the game to tie the score at 24-24 midway through the third quarter. Central then gained the lead for the final time when David Park connected on a runner only to see the Rockets erupt with seven straight points.
Austin Ernst got inside for a layup, followed by a Mark Hoke theft of the inbounds pass for a short leaner and Byrne's long-distance triple that put McNicholas ahead 31-26. Park's baseline floater and Sean Byrne's dish to Richie Day closed the third quarter with the Maroon Knights trailing 33-28.
Another Park runner at the outset of the fourth quarter cut the deficit to three, but Danny Byrne then connected on the first of his four straight 3-point shots for a six-point edge. Sean Bryne's conventional 3-point play on a stickback and free throw at the five-minute mark extended the lead to 39-31. Park, who led the Central scoring with 16 points, meshed his only triple of the evening in cutting the deficit to five.
However, before the Maroon Knights' fans could celebrate that basket, Danny Byrne nailed a rainbow trifecta from the top of the circle. Jacob Bradley's two free throws gave McNicholas its first 10-point advantage and Danny Byrne stuck another dagger in Central's heart with his final three pointer at the 3:20 mark. The Maroon Knights were unable to cut their deficit below 10 the rest of the way.
"In the first half, I thought we competed with them and played really well," Stephens said. ''We threw a little bit of zone that didn't confuse them but slowed them down some. They are a very deliberate team anyway and we felt the game was going to be in the 50's or lower. We just didn't make enough shots to stay with them."
Limiting the Rockets to virtually zero dribble penetration the first half, Central stayed within 11-7 after the first quarter and then trailed by just 17-16 at halftime.
''Our game plan was to try and force them into taking perimeter shots and our kids rebounding the basketball without giving them any second chances. We did a good job of that but we ran out of gas a little bit in the fourth quarter when they started knocking down some shots and getting a few runouts," Stephens said.
Following Park's 16 points in the Central offense was senior Brandon Wallace with 10 points. All three of the Maroon Knights' bigs had solid games for the second night in a row. Chance Siebieda scored five points and pulled down eight rebounds, while Alonzo Manns came off the bench and scored five points in the opening half.
''I thought 'Zo' gave us a lift in the second quarter and Brandon Wallace has been solid," Stephens said. ''On offense, we need to start getting into something where we can get the ball inside to them."
Danny Byrne's 17 points and 12 tallies from Day paced the McNicholas offense. The Rockets shot just under 50 percent from the floor with a 20 of 43 performance. Central managed just 37 shots, hitting 17.