MCMURRAY – Close games have not been kind to the Peters Township boys basketball team, and Tuesday night was no exception.
The Indians got off to a good start, but ultimately mistakes killed them as they dropped a double-overtime thriller, losing a WPIAL Section 4-AAAA game to Upper St. Clair, 67-62.
Five of Peters Township’s (1-4, 4-7) seven losses on the season have come by six points or less, including Friday’s overtime loss to Bethel Park, in which they lost in overtime at the buzzer.
“It’s just the same old stuff every game,” said Peters Township head coach Gary Goga. “We miss free throws and make the same mistakes. It’s just another tough loss.”
The Indians took a 59-56 lead in the second overtime period on the fifth of Dakota Norton’s six three-point shots, but Upper St. Clair’s Jordan Grabowski took over, scoring the game’s next seven points to give the Panthers control of the game.
Grabowski finished with a team-high 21 points, none bigger than his 3-pointer with 2:45 left that gave the Panthers a 60-59 lead – one they wouldn’t relinquish.
“Someone had to step up,” said Grabowski. “I have a ‘refuse-to-lose mentality,’ and there was no way I was going to allow us to lose that game.”
Upper St. Clair appeared to have won the game in regulation when Connor Gallagher’s 3-pointer clearly appeared to beat the buzzer, but the shot was waved off and it took a pair of extra periods for the Panthers to win a big section game.
It wasn’t the first time on the night that Upper St. Clair had to pick itself up.
Indians big man Gabe Pritz started the game red hot, scoring 13 first-quarter points as Peters Township started the game on a 14-2 run and led, 17-7, after the first quarter.
“We just had to slow things up,” said Upper St. Clair head coach Danny Holzer. “We were playing too fast and out of sync on offense to start the game, and a lot of their baskets came of turnovers. Once we slowed things up, we started making shots and getting better looks at the baskets. We blew a double-digit lead last year here, and I kept reminding them that the game wasn’t over.”
Starting in the second quarter, the Panthers started knocking down the perimeter shots, as they made nine shots from behind the arc on the night.
Gallagher came off the bench and scored 12 second-quarter points, knocking down three long-range shots to pull Upper St. Clair within two at the half, trailing only 28-26.
It was more of the same in the third quarter, as Joel Klein hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Panthers their first lead of the game at 32-31. Grabowski later followed with a pair of threes of his own and Upper St. Clair took its largest lead of the game at 42-36.
While Upper St. Clair was busy shooting the lights out, the biggest difference was that it limited Pritz’s touches in the second half. The senior scored 18 of his game-high 25 points in the first half and was limited to only one point in the third quarter, one field goal in the second half and both overtimes.
“After the hot start, I knew they would come out and face-guard me and run more people at me,” said Pritz. “I just tried to swing the ball more often and get my teammates involved.”
However the game wouldn’t have been close if the Indians knocked down their free throws.
Free throw shooting has been a problem all season for Peters Township, and this game was no different as they made only 15 of 27 attempts from the charity stripe, including several misses in the fourth quarter and both overtime periods.
“It’s like beating a dead horse with a stick,” said Pritz. “We keep losing close games because we keep doing the same things wrong. We have to start making our free throws as a team, me included.”
In addition to Pritz, Norton also had a big scoring night for the Indians, finishing with 20 points.
Upper St. Clair had four players score in double figures, led by Grabowski’s 21. Gallagher finished with 17 off the bench, while Klein and J.J. Conn each finished with 11.
The Indians, already with four section losses, have some work to do in the section and will get the opportunity to break a three-game losing streak Friday night at Baldwin.