CANONSBURG – Good teams are often measured by their ability to handle adversity.
The Canon McMillan High School boys’ basketball team has had their share of adversity to deal with this season, and the Big Macs keep getting up off the deck and responding.
The Big Macs drew on those experiences Friday night when they took a couple of big shots from Bethel Park but counterpunched with big games from guards Britton Beachy and Alex Hammers, and found a way to squeak out a 66-63 Section 4-AAAA thriller.
“With what we have gone through this year, I think it says a lot about the mental toughness of our guys,” said Canon McMillan head coach Rick Bell. “We have heart and we are going to fight. I love my team. They are really a true team.”
The Big Macs (5-2, 9-5) got off to a hot start but saw a double-digit lead disappear on two different occasions, but some clutch late free-throw shooting from Hammers, Beachy and Jake Papi sealed the victory.
In a game that featured 17 three-pointers, nothing proved to be bigger than Papi stepping to the free-throw line with just under six seconds remaining and calmly sinking a pair of free throws to put the game away.
“I’m very happy for Jake,” said Bell. “He works so hard and has missed some big free throws this year. I told him during the timeout that it was just a free throw. He stepped up and made two big ones. Free-throw shooting was a big part of things.”
Bethel Park (5-2, 10-3) got an early dose of Hammers as the junior came out ona hot streak, making a pair of three-point shots and scoring eight of the Big Macs’ first 10 points. He led C-M to a quick 12-3 spurt to start the game.
Hammers scored 10 of his 20 points in the game’s first eight minutes.
The Black Hawks crept back into the game and trailed only 16-14 early in the second quarter. But the second quarter eventually belonged to Beachy, who matched Hammers’ first-quarter performance by scoring 10 points, knocking down a pair of threes as the Big Macs outscored Bethel Park 14-5 to take a 28-15 halftime lead.
Bethel Park had a chance to get back into the game from the free-throw line as they got Canon-Mac in early foul trouble, but the Black Hawks missed eight of 13 first-half free throws.
“Free-throw shooting came back to bite us,” said Bethel Park head coach Ben O’Connor. “Give Canon-Mac all the credit, though. They were unbelievable. They just kept hitting big shot after big shot.”
The momentum turned on Big Macs to start the second half as the Black Hawks opened with a 14-1 run to quickly tie the game. Bethel Park got more aggressive and started taking the ball to the rim, and their press started forcing the Big Macs into mistakes handling the ball.
The turning point came when Big Macs point guard Sam Bohn picked up his fourth foul with almost five minutes remaining in the third quarter.
With nothing going C-M’s way they could have folded.
But Hammers hit a big three-pointer to give C-M the lead again. Beachy followed with a three-point play, and then Costa Karanikos, in his first game back from injury, hit a big three from the corner as Canon-Mac hit Bethel Park with an 11-0 run to take a 40-29 lead.
All of that was done with Beachy serving as the Big Macs’ primary ball-handler.
“I had total confidence in him,” said Bell. “He is a freshman by name only. I would rather had Sam out there handling the bal,l but we knew Britton would get the job done. He had experience doing it when Sam fouled out against Baldwin and Britton led us to a 33-point fourth quarter. He stepped up and did a great job.”
However, the Black Hawks would not go away as the fourth quarter turned into a three-point shooting competition.
Despite C-M leading by as many as 13 in the final quarter, the teams combined to knock down 10 three pointers, eight of them belonged to Bethel Park as the Black Hawks nearly shot themselves to a comeback win.
Joe Mascaro hit three of his five threes in the final quarter, the fifth of which pulled the Black hawks to within 61-60 with just 30 seconds left.
But that would be as close as Bethel Park would get as the Big Macs stepped to the free-throw line and made clutch free throws to close the game out.
“That’s a really good basketball team,” said Bell. “We pretty much controlled the game and we knew they would come back at us. But we didn’t flinch and we didn’t panic.”
Mascaro led the Black Hawks with 25 points, and Anthony Bomer also had a nice night finishing with 19.
Beachy continued his run of high-scoring games, finishing with a game-high 27 as the win pulls the Big Macs into a second-place tie in the section, just one game behind section leader Upper St. Clair.
“We have a great point guard in Sam that looks for us,” said Beachy. “It was a tough one. I am just so thankful of my teammates and coaches for being supportive of me.”