WHEELING - Shooting a torrid 58 percent from the floor (33 of 57) and relying on its quickness and tenacious defense throughout the game, the Wheeling Park boys basketball team coasted past North Allegheny, 80-61, in the nightcap of the Wheeling Park/Wheeling Hospital Basketball Classic on Saturday night.
The battle of the undefeated was hardly a struggle at all as the Patriots rolled to their third consecutive victory and handed the talented Tigers their first defeat in five games.
With four starters scoring in double figures, Wheeling Park never trailed and built a commanding lead that reached 23 points early in the fourth quarter.
Once again it as Boo Lathon setting the tone for his teammates with 24 points, 11 rebounds and five steals. Sophomore scoring machine Luke Saseen checked in with 18 points, six rebounds and four steals. Next in line was Vondel Bell accounting for 17 points while Emil Popicg had 10 points and six rebounds.
Continuing a message he has delivered after each of the first three games this season, Coach Michael Jebbia said, ''We shared the ball really well. Nobody cares who gets the credit or who scores the points.
''North Allegheny is a very good team and they are going to win a lot of games, but I thought maybe we surprised them a little bit with our quickness. The kids also did a good job of sticking to the game plan.
''They knew we were going to be pressed for 32 minutes and they handled it very well. We took a couple of quick shots in the fourth quarter when I would have preferred that we take the ball inside for a layup or get fouled.
''Both teams finished with 17 turnovers, which isn't all that bad when you look at the pace of the game.''
The score was tied just once at 2-2 when North Allegheny senior guard standout J.C. Howard tossed in a leaner from inside 12 feet. Surprisingly, and much to the credit of the Park defense, Howard would manage to cash only one more field goal the rest of the evening. The 18-points per game average scorer had only six points when he fouled out early in the fourth quarter.
''J.C. got a little frustrated mainly because he has having such a hard time getting open," said Dave DeGregorio, the Tigers' coach. ''He's an excellent player and I know he'll bounce back in our next game."
DeGregorio also admitted the Tigers were surprised somewhat by the quickness and overall speed of the Patriots.
''I thought their point guard was really quick and he made it really hard to turn them over,'' he said. ''They also rebounded the ball very well."
Although North Allegheny was playing for the second time in as many nights and arrived at the WPHS gymnasium late due to a car accident on Interstate 79 that delayed the start of the game for 45 minutes, DeGregorio refused to say those things were a factor in the loss.
''Those are excuses and we don't make excuses," he said. ''That's a good team that beat us. Their pressure had a lot to do with our not being as disciplined as we needed to be to win the game."
Saseen's baseline drive for a one-hander off the glass and Errin Baynes conventional 3-point play gave the Patriots an early 7-2 advantage. Saseen, Bell and Lathon contributed six points each as Park carried a 21-14 lead into the second quarter.
The Tigers crept to within 23-19 a couple of minutes later but Lathon drew some oohs and aahs from the big crowd with his baseline move and resounding slam to end that run. Midway through the quarter, Popicg drained the first of his two triples to launch a 9-1 rally that put the Patriots on top 35-22. Lathon's steam and dunk put them up by 17 but Scott Blumer's two free throws cut the North Allegheny deficit to 40-25 at halftime.
Saseen's big quarter was right after halftime as he went 4-for-4 from the field sparking Park to a 64-42 bulge heading into the final eight minutes.
''We changed up our rotation a little bit tonight and played nine guys,'' Jebbia said. ''I was pleased late in the third quarter when we took our big three out and the guys coming off the bench, Lee Peluchette, Michael Thomas and Na'Kwaun Phillips, helped us extend to lead past 20 points.''
North Allegheny's scoring was led by Blumer with 13 points and Ricky Minsterman with 12 tallies.