PITTSBURGH – Lincoln Park sophomore guard Maverick Rowan held the WPIAL Class A championship trophy in his hands. He tilted the bronze plaque toward the light to read the inscription. After 32 minutes of basketball where the Leopards put on a record-breaking performance, Rowan smiled and could not wait to celebrate his first championship.
Behind Rowan’s game-high 26 points, Lincoln Park defeated Monessen, 85-41, at the A.J. Palumbo Center to win the WPIAL Class A title. It was the largest margin of championship game victory in the history of Class A boys basketball and is Lincoln Park’s second title in three years.
The Greyhounds will play the runner-up out of District 10 in the state playoffs next weekend.
Rowan, a Pitt recruit, did not flinch when Monessen started the game on a 7-0 run. He, along with senior center Elijah Minnie, answered by reinforcing Lincoln Park’s top ranking in the Class A state polls.
“We didn’t think anything of that early run,” Rowan said. “We just came back and played better than them. It feels great to hold the trophy. Next is the state title, hopefully.”
The Greyhounds’ early run was sparked by senior Javon Brown, whose steal off Rowan and ensuing lay-in had the Monessen fans on their feet. It was the last time they had a reason to be enthusiastic. Behind 16 first-half points from Rowan, the Leopards outscored Monessen 47-14 from the 1:29 mark in the first quarter until half time. Lincoln Park went 21-of-23 from the field in the first half, with much of the success coming from points in transition.
Monessen buckled under Lincoln Park’s 1-2-2 defense which pressured the Greyhounds’ guards into forced turnovers. They attempted to attack the Leopards (25-1) by driving to the paint, where they met a familiar face: Minnie, who spent his freshman year at Monessen.
“He alters shots, he obviously blocks them and on offense, when he sticks to his guns, he can do special things,” Lincoln Park head coach Mark Javens said. “Without Elijah, it can change some things. We are glad he’s on our team.”
The 6-9 center was dominant; altering shots, grabbing rebound after rebound and stifling Monessen senior Clintell Gillaspie in the lane. After choosing to attend Lincoln Park over Monessen, Minnie was dejected by the community for his decision. Instead of playing for the Greyhounds, he chose to travel 60 miles each day to attend the charter school with a reputation of winning in basketball.
After receiving resounding boos from the Monessen crowd during pregame introductions, Minnie imposed his will: capturing a rare triple-double in a championship game with his 20 points, 16 rebounds and 11 blocks.
“This is what I have been wanting these past two years,” Minnie said. “I wanted this so bad and I knew I couldn’t leave Lincoln Park without a WPIAL title. We saw what Salvino said and we wanted everyone to know that Lincoln Park is here and we aren’t going to back down from any team, no matter what.”
Monessen head coach Joe Salvino captured the Leopards’ attention Friday morning with comments regarding the charter school’s recruitment of local talent. Lincoln Park’s team saw the newspaper article and delivered it to head coach Mark Javens’ office. Javens’ response was a simple motivator, “if that doesn’t make you play your (expletive) off, I don’t know what will.”
The bus ride to the Palumbo Center was silent for Lincoln Park. Not one player spoke as Salvino’s words echoed through their minds. They answered with a performance that will be talked about for quite some time, including highlight reel dunks by Rowan and Minnie.
“I was disgusted by the remarks that Salvino made,” Lincoln Park assistant coach and athletic director Mike Bariski said. “I would never say those things about another school. I thought it was completely out of line.”
After the early 7-0 run from the Greyhounds’ their offense could not find an answer to the Leopards’ height advantage. Forced passes led to 12 first-half turnovers, which translated to 24 easy points in transition for Lincoln Park. It gave the Leopards a 26-point lead at halftime and they never looked back.
Monessen’s offense struggled mightily all night. Gillaspie failed to make a field goal until early in the fourth quarter, senior Tyler Yuille played limited minutes because of the flu and the team’s leading rebounder, Justice Rawlins, was unable to compete for second chances with Minnie standing in the way.
“We don’t have any division-one basketball players and they have at least six,” Salvino said. “They’re good. If we have to play by the rules, this is what happens.”
Salvino’s message to his team after the game was to not give up after losing badly to Lincoln Park. In 1988 and 89, Salvino coached Monessen to back-to-back PIAA Championships after not winning a WPIAL title.
“We still have an opportunity to win states,” Salvino said. “We still have a chance to do something others don’t have the chance to do. They just have to believe in themselves, but even with the loss, I have to be proud of these guys. No one thought they could get here and they did.”