CORAOPOLIS – With senior Nick Miller, the WPIAL’s leading scorer, running the show from his point guard position for Western Beaver, Carmichaels High School’s boys basketball team knew it couldn’t match the Golden Beavers in a high-scoring game Friday night in a Class A first-round playoff contest.
The Mikes wanted a low-scoring game. They just didn’t expect they would have this much trouble making a basket.
Carmichaels was held to only nine field goals in its worst shooting performance of the season, and Miller put together an impressive all-around performance in leading Western Beaver to a surprisingly easy 77-37 victory at Moon High School.
The win sends Western Beaver (15-6) into the quarterfinals against top-seeded and once-beaten Lincoln Park, a team the Golden Beavers lost to twice during section play.
Carmichaels ends its season with a 15-6 record and wondering how a senior-laden team could have so much trouble scoring. The Mikes were held to two first-quarter points and didn’t make their first field goal until early in the second quarter.
“I didn’t expect this, at all,” said Carmichaels coach Don Williams, who completed his 39th season with the Mikes. “It was definitely the worst game we played all year. For all the times for it to happen, it had to come in the playoffs. But, you stay around long enough and you’ll have games like this.”
Miller’s offensive performance and a relic defense helped Western Beaver take control early. Carmichaels struggled from the start with Western Beaver’s trapping 1-3-1 zone defense, one the Golden Beavers model after Michigan’s John Beilein-coached teams.
With Western Beaver trapping in the corners, Carmichaels became content to play on the perimeter and look for three-point shots. Those shots, however, weren’t falling into the basket. The Mikes made only three from behind the arc the entire game, including just one in the first half, when Western Beaver forged a commanding 34-13 lead.
“A lot of high school teams aren’t ready for that defense because not many people play it,” Western Beaver coach Joe Podolak explained. “It’s something different that teams from outside our section don’t prepare for or can’t in a day or two.”
The Mikes didn’t score their first points until more than six minutes into the game, and went without a field goal for almost 10 minutes before senior forward Brandon Lawless made a three-pointer. By that point, the Mikes trailed 18-5.
A matchup of Miller, who averaged 30 points per game during the regular season, and Lawless, one of the leading scorers in the Washington-Greene area, never materialized. Lawless was held to 14 points and only two field goals.
No Carmichaels player made more than two field goals.
Miller, however, took over the game in the first half, when he scored 14 points. Then, in the third quarter, the 6-2 senior scored 16 more points, including three baskets from three-point range in a span of four minutes.
“Miller is a fantastic player,” Podolak said. “He doesn’t take bad shots and he’s always looking to get the ball to the open teammate.”
There were many for Miller to choose from on this day as Carmichaels’ missed shots often led to long rebounds and fast-break opportunities for Western Beaver. Miller finished with eight rebounds and a several assists.
“We knew he was a terrific player,” Williams said. “But when we missed shots, we didn’t hustle back on defense. They were able to get the ball to (Miller) and run.”
Carmichaels scored 15 of its points in the third quarter, when it finally figured out how to attack the 1-3-1 by getting the ball inside the lane. But the Mikes never figured out how to stop Miller.
“In the first half, we played like we didn’t want to penetrate. We were content to shoot threes, then we didn’t scramble back on defense,” Williams said. “In the third quarter, we put the ball on the floor and did much better by penetrating and getting to the free-throw line. In the first half, for whatever reason, we were very tentative.”
John Petrosky was the only other player to score in double figures for Western Beaver with 16 points. Lawless grabbed nine rebounds for Carmichaels, which made 16 of 18 free throws.
The Mikes committed 14 costly turnovers against the zone trap. With Miller handling the ball most of the night, Western Beaver had only five turnovers.
“Carmichaels is not a bad team,” Podolak said. “We played a very good game.”