MONESSEN – Monessen boys basketball coach Joe Salvino is cautiously pleased. Entering Tuesday night, the Greyhounds were ranked as the state’s eighth-best team in Class A and Monessen had yet to lose to a Class A opponent. Salvino is content with how Monessen’s senior-heavy lineup has grown
With a Section 3-A rematch with Carmichaels on the horizon, Salvino did not want his team to buckle. While the Greyhounds respect WPIAL Class A powers Lincoln Park and Vincentian Academy, they want to be mentioned with those two teams as the best in District 7.
Monessen moved one step closer by soundly defeating Carmichaels, 94-55, to seal the section title and separate themselves from a large group of playoff-bound teams in Class A.
“I told the team at halftime that we are looking for better things,” Salvino said. “We want to be with Lincoln Park and Vincentian. Once the regular season is over and we get into the playoffs, anything can happen. It’s time to get ready.”
The opening minutes of the Section 3-A matchup were back-and-forth between the two teams, with the Mikes attempting to avenge their 78-55 loss to Monessen Jan. 14.
Greyhounds senior guard Javon Brown ensured that would not happen. Brown had four points during Monessen’s 11-0 run in a span of 1:35 as the Greyhounds jumped out to an early 15-4 lead.
Along with a soft jump shot that accumulated 11 first-half points, Brown was tenacious on the defensive end. The 5-9 guard was tasked with covering Carmichaels senior Brandon Lawless. Once again, Monessen (9-0, 15-5) used strong backcourt pressure to frustrate Lawless. Brown recorded five steals during the matchup and finished with 15 points. Lawless, the Mikes’ leading scorer, finished with a team-high 22 points.
“I’m just going out there and doing what my coaches tell me to do,” Brown said. “It’s a big win for us. We played them already and knew what to expect. We have to keep this going.”
Monessen received a strong scoring touch off the bench from freshman Justice Rice and sophomore Jaden Altomore. The two combined for 11 first-half points, including a three-point shot from each, to extend the Greyhounds’ lead. Monessen entered halftime with the 47-31 advantage.
“This team has come a long way from last year,” Salvino said. “As a unit, this team has matured a lot. We intensified our defense and it was good to see us play that way. We have to play relentless defense because this team does not have height. That was the key.”
Relentless pressure from their guards made Monessen’s rematch with Carmichaels (6-2, 14-3) a mirror image of the first battle between the teams. While it was Justice Rawlins who scored with a vengeance in the last meeting, this time senior Clintell Gillaspie displayed why his name should accompany Lawless as one of the best players in the area.
Gillaspie had a game-high 26 points for Monessen, including a moment early in the fourth quarter that he will not soon forget. With the Greyhounds continuing to pressure on both ends of the floor, Gillaspie broke free alone on a fast break. The 6-1 guard dunked and the Monessen fans erupted.
“Not to sound cocky, but I saw this coming,” Gillaspie said. “We pressured them early and they didn’t have an answer. I knew we were going to be good this year but we have matured so much since that playoff loss last season.”
Monessen was eliminated from the WPIAL playoffs in the second round last year at the hands of eventual champion Vincentian, 82-42.
Salvino is not surprised by his team’s rise from an overlooked group of senior leaders to one of the top teams in the state. He watched last year as a group of players dedicated to football became polished contributors on the basketball court.
Monessen’s schedule this season featured games against Class AAAA opponents Upper St. Clair, Franklin Regional and Hempfield as well as Class AAA Uniontown. The Greyhounds defeated Uniontown, 74-70, Jan. 4. The year of growth and a tough non-section schedule has resulted in a savvy, relentless Monessen team that is accustomed to playing against top talent.
“This schedule has been very important,” Salvino said. “As a coach, you’ve got to learn how your team is going to react against bigger, stronger teams. This group has learned a great deal from those games. Clintell and Javon are scoring, Justice is rebounding and this group is really coming together.”
Carmichael scoach Don Williams was not available for comment.