Monessen’s boys basketball team is well-aware how close they came to seeing their state championship hopes from ending at the hands of Erie First Christian Academy. The Eagles surprised the Greyhounds with their athleticism and with a strong defensive effort; EFCA almost upset Monessen in the first round of the PIAA playoffs.
The Greyhounds trailed by one point with under a minute remaining when senior forward Justice Rawlins found Javon Brown open for an easy fast break basket for two of his 18 points.
On the ensuing play, Monessen junior Noah Rullo stole the inbounds pass and set Gillaspie up for an easy layup. The Greyhounds held a three-point lead after the basket before EFCA junior guard Romeo Kabongo, who finished with a team-high 23 points, silenced the Monessen crowd with a three-pointer that tied the game with 14 seconds left.
While it was Gillaspie’s basket that gave the Greyhounds the lead, it was the play of senior Justice Rawlins that helped Monessen get back into the game. EFCA’s 6-foot-11 center, Valentine Sangoyami, was altering shots, clogging the passing lanes, block shots and grabbing rebounds relentlessly for the first 24 minutes of Friday’s game.
The Greyhounds knew coming into the game that getting Sangoyami into foul trouble would be critical. They succeeded with the help of Rawlins, who despite being 10 inches shorter than the Nigerian big man, drove to the lane to draw personal foul calls on Sangoyami. It paid off when the 6-11 center attempted to was called for his fifth foul after attempting ot block a shot with the game tied 57-57 and only 1:36 remaining in regulation.
With Sangoyanmi out, EFCA attempted to take advantage of Rawlins size by cycling the basketball to 6-5 forward Augustine Mathias, but Rawlins forced Mathias to miss the short jumper, grabbed the rebound and found Brown open for the lay-in to take the lead.
“I knew when the game started that we had to get (Sangoyami) into foul trouble,” Rawlins said. “I kept driving to the lane and thankfully it worked.”
Monessen was trailing 27-26 at halftime when Greyhounds head coach Joe Salvino delivered a fiery speech to his team in the locker room.
“When coach came into the locker room and threw his water bottle, we knew it was time to turn it on,” Rawlins said.
- EFCA coach Phil Gernovich admitted following the game that he thought his team had the upper hand in the first overtime when Mathias tied the game 67-67 with 1:08 remaining. Monessen took the lead 24 seconds later with a lay-up by Gillaspie.
- Tyler Yuille and Lavelle Rush returned to action for the Greyhounds in the PIAA playoff opener. Yuille was limited in the WPIAL title game with the flu and played well before fouling out in the second overtime. The 6-2 senior forward scored nine points, grabbed 10 rebounds and like Rawlins, excelled defensively despite the size advantage.
Rush missed the past three games with academic issues and returned to add Monessen’s first basket in the second overtime period, which sparked the Greyhounds pivotal 7-0 run that led to the victory.
- Next up for Monessen is Bishop Carroll (26-0), the District 6 champions who defeated Clarion Limestone, 81-42, on Friday. The Greyhounds and Huskies will face off on Tuesday at a site and time to be determined.
- I wrote about Bishop Carroll in a blog post last month, which you can find here: http://thevarsitylettersor.blogspot.com/2014/02/monessen-rolling-through-class.html