UPPER ST. CLAIR – Canon-McMillan entered the fourth quarter of Friday night’s Section 4-AAA boys basketball matchup trailing 36-33.
As the final eight minutes began, the Big Macs wasted no time showing the Panthers that they belong in the race for first place in the section. Junior Alex Hammers hit a jump shot and Sam Bohn’s pair of free throws gave Canon-McMillan its first lead of the second half with less than seven minutes remaining.
The teams traded baskets for the next two minutes, until Jordan Smith found a seam in the lane for an easy layin and a 41-40 Big Macs lead. Upper St. Clair responded by outscoring Canon-McMillan, 16-6, in the final four minutes to walk away with the 56-47 victory and first place in Section 4-AAAA.
“We were certainly in a desperate situation so we were going to find out a lot about our team tonight, that’s for sure,” Upper St. Clair head coach Danny Holzer said. “I want to give Canon Mac and Coach Bell a lot of credit. What a gritty team they are. They are playing inspired basketball. We beat a really good team tonight.”
Smith’s layup had the Big Macs’ fans on their feet, but less than 10 seconds later, Panthers senior guard Thomas Steve made an uncontested three-point shot to give Upper St. Clair the 43-41 advantage. Senior Conor Gallagher added four points during an 8-0 run for the Panthers, who have not lost a home game to Canon-McMillan (6-3, 10-6) in more than a decade. Steve led Upper St. Clair with 14 points, while Gallagher added 11 for the first-place Panthers (7-2, 11-5), who sank nine of 13 free throws in the fourth quarter to seal the win.
“That was a big shot for us,” Steve said. “Conor Gallagher made a perfect pass and found me wide open on the wing. It always feels good to knock down a shot like that. This is a huge win. It gives us confidence and now we just have to take care of business on Monday.”
The Panthers and Big Macs meet again Monday night in Canonsburg.
The first half was a back-and-forth battle between the two talented backcourts with perimeter shooting trumping post play. For the Big Macs, it was Bohn who put on a show.
Canon-McMillan trailed 26-23 at halftime but Bohn scored 16 first-half points. The junior, who had a game-high 20 points, is the team’s lone returning starter from last season.
His presence was felt in the closing minutes when Canon-McMillan fought back to take the lead. According to Big Macs head coach Rick Bell, Bohn is a steady leader for Canon-McMillan and was a major part of the scoring output against Upper St. Clair’s defense, which entered allowing just 47 points per game.
“It seems that it is always one of our guards who takes over the scoring and tonight it was Sammy,” Bell said. “Sammy was making shots and he had the hot hand, so we were calling most of the plays for him. He’s the one guy with varsity experience. The kids were looking to him at the end of the game.”
Bell is not concerned with how his team will react to the defeat. This season has been filled with adversity for Canon-McMillan and when the Big Macs were just 3-4 to begin the season, Bell adopted a phrase for his team from Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle: Get in the shower and wash it off following a tough loss. Don’t get hung up on one defeat and move forward.
The Big Macs do not have a choice. They have a chance to redeem avenge the defeat and again tie for first place in the section.
“I’ve got a confident bunch,” Bell said. “They expect to win. The mindset is that it is over. We’ll see them again Monday night at our place. We’ve got an opportunity in less than 72 hours to redeem ourselves. We have taken the attitude of do what we’ve done every day.”