MCMURRAY – As Greensburg Salem head coach Craig Mankins prepared for his team’s playoff matchup with South Fayette, he spoke to Uniontown coach Rob Kezmarsky.
Kezmarsky’s team defeated the Lions three weeks ago and he had a warning for Makins and the Golden Lions: Watch out for South Fayette junior guard Jack Relihan.
Mankins heeded the advice, but it did not matter. Relihan, a left-hander, was unstoppable for the Lions in the second half and finished with 16 points to lead South Fayette past Greensburg Salem, 54-42, in a Class AAA preliminary round playoff game at Peters Township.
The Lions (13-9) led 23-10 at halftime with credit going to junior point guard Nick McKee, who hit four three-point shots in the first half and the Golden Lions’ offense, which could not hit a shot. Greensburg Salem (10-13) struggled offensively for four quarters.
“We couldn’t make a basket in the first half,” Mankins said. “It was almost as if there was Saran Wrap around the rim and McKee couldn’t miss. That was the difference.”
With attention drawn toward McKee in the second half, Relihan used his advantage as a southpaw to fake right and go left around Greensburg Salem’s Delaine Hughes. He dribbled and drove into the lane with success as South Fayette’s big men, Brett Brumbaugh and Justin Watson, cleared the way for Relihan to make easy shots.
“Jack can get to the basket and is a pure offensive player,” Lions head coach Rich Bonnaure said. “I didn’t do a great job calling plays to get him open looks early, but later in the game, he did a really nice job.”
The combination of Relihan and McKee was even more surprising considering the injury the latter suffered last week at Chartiers Valley. McKee sprained his ankle and had not touched a basketball until pregame warmups. It did not take long for him to shake off the rust as the 5-10 guard scored 14-first half points and finished with 16.
With all eyes on McKee after that strong first half, Relihan thrived.
“I just wanted to let the game come to me,” Relihan said. “Nick was hitting shots and coming into the second half, we knew they would jump out to prevent him from making shots. It opened the door for me to play my game.”
As Relihan continued to drive to the basket, Makins continued to yell at Hughes, “left, he’s going left.” It was too little too late. On a day where Watson was held to just six points, the lefty led South Fayette to victory.
“As much as you tell kids to prepare for a lefty, there’s only so much you can do,” Makins said. “We couldn’t find an answer for him.”
The victory earned the Lions a matchup in the next round against Elizabeth Forward (19-3) Tuesday at a site and time to be determined.
“We played well tonight and our defense up front was the key,” Bonnaure said. “Watson does not have to score double figures to help us. He had five blocks tonight and with Brett, allowed us to match Greensburg’s strength.”