CARMICHAELS – Justice Rawlins is not a Carmichaels fan. The Monessen senior forward saw the Mikes surrender a first-half lead to the Greyhounds last season before charging back in the second half for a home victory.
Rawlins ensured that did not happen again.
The 6-1 defensive force scored 22 points to lead the Greyhounds to a 78-55 win over the Mikes to gain first place in Section 3-A.
“We had a lot of conflict with them last year,” Rawlins said. “When we here last time, they came back to beat us and we didn’t want to see that happen again. We wanted to come out with a lot of emotion and that’s what we did.”
Monessen had two goals entering Tuesday night’s game: put relentless pressure on Carmichaels senior Brandon Lawless and outrebound the Mikes at both ends of the floor.
The Greyhounds (3-0, 8-4) accomplished both tasks with Rawlins being the catalyst for Monessen.
The matchup held playoff implications for both teams and the gymnasium at Carmichaels was full. With Lawless just five points away from 1,000 for his career, expectations were high for the Mikes.
Carmichaels (2-1, 10-2) matched Monessen’s physical play in the opening minutes, quickly registering six points in transition, but the Greyhounds’ senior-laden lineup did not take long to rectify last year’s stunning defeat.
With the scored tied 12-12 and 4:25 remaining in the first quarter, Rawlins and Clintell Gillaspie began snagging rebound after rebound and capitalizing on turnovers. The result was a 14-2 run over the final four minutes in the first quarter. The two players combined for 15 of Monessen’s 26 points in the opening eight minutes.
“We looked good and at times, and we also looked sloppy,” Monessen head coach Joe Salvino said. “I thought it would be physical, and whenever you come here it’s nice to get a win. This is a very tough place to play a basketball game.”
While Rawlins and Gillaspie dribbled and drove into the lane to score, Lawless did so without any success. It was an aspect of the leading scorer’s game that Salvino aimed on shutting down. He scored just seven points in the first half, and with his basket early in the second quarter eclipsed the 1,000 point mark.
Monessen used a senior guard to shadow Lawless up and down the floor: Javon Brown. Brown, who held Mapletown’s high-scoring Dereck Riggleman to just 13 points Saturday, was determined to not allow Lawless to turn to his physical play when his shots were not falling. Lawless finished with 17 points, most of which came with Monessen’s lead insurmountable.
“I love guarding the other team’s best player,” Brown said. “It makes me focus more. It’s always a big task and I welcome it.”
When Lawless reached the historic mark, Carmichaels called a timeout to allow a standing ovation for the senior. It was the last time the Mikes’ fans stood in excitement. Rawlins’ layup off an offensive rebound with just over a minute remaining in the second quarter gave the Greyhounds a 37-27 lead. With the lead in hand, Rawlins focused on last year’s game at Carmichaels that ended with a 69-60 loss and the feeling was all too familiar.
Rawlins’ focus was to not slow down. He and the Greyhounds did not.
The opening minutes of the second half saw both teams matching shots with Monessen’s intensity growing by each possession. Gillaspie and Rawlins snagged rebounds over the Mikes’ forwards, creating opportunities for Brown. With 3:03 remaining in the third quarter, Gillaspie’s steal and fast break layup started a 9-3 run in Monessen’s favor.
The offensive spurt gave the Greyhounds a 17-point lead heading into the fourth quarter to clinch the key section victory. Gillaspie finished with 15 points and Brown added 11 for Monessen.
“I can’t fault our players,” Carmichaels head coach Don Williams said. “They hustled the entire game, but tonight was not our night and that had to a lot to do with Monessen. I knew it was going to be physical, but you’ve just got to play through it.”
The win is Monessen’s fifth in a row, and with a home game against section rival Clairton awaiting Friday the Greyhounds are looking to carry this emotional win into the remainder of section play.
“Hopefully, we keep gaining trust in one another so we can play to our full potential,” Rawlins said. “This is a huge win, though. We didn’t want to lose this game and we want to use this same energy against Clairton.”