PUNXSUTAWNEY â€” Despite leading by just four points at halftime, the Punxsy boys' basketball team scored 10 unanswered points to start the third quarter, and Daniel Triponey scored 19 points to lead the Chucks to a 41-29 victory over the Elk County Catholic Crusaders Tuesday night in Punxsutawney.
"Daniel's just a good ball player," Punxsy head coach Dirk Neal said after the game. "What else can we say? He's smooth, and 99.9 percent of the time, he knows his role. It's no secret now that teams are going to be coming after him. He knows where to draw the line. He knows what he can and can't do. These guys work really well together, and Daniel knows how to look to find other people, too."
The other person Triponey found most frequently Tues- day night when the defense took away his option to shoot was junior forward Garrett Zimmerman, who, along with fellow big man Luke Janocha, impressed Neal with his scrappy play and desire to make a difference on both ends of the court.
"I had a pretty good feeling they would do all in their power to keep Triponey out of the picture, be it double teaming him or keeping him away from the basket," Neal said. "Before the game, we talked about someone else needing to step up, and Luke and Garrett's eyes lit up because they know we've been doing better lately at getting the ball to them in different ways. They took advantage of that tonight and had countless offensive and defensive rebounds."
The game was closely contested throughout the first half, with the Chucks gaining an 11-9 edge in each of the first two quarters.
ECC's Brock McCullough started the scoring with a free throw, but Punxsy answered with four points on a pair of foul shots by Brandon Mancuso and a hard-earned basket by Janocha.
The Crusaders' Brandon Schlimm evened the score with a three â€” one of three Crusaders to go deep during the game â€” to tie the game at four.
After that, the pace slowed a bit, and Triponey earned his first three points on a strong take to the basket and a foul shot in an and-one situation.
Clayton Housler pulled ECC back within one, but Mancuso scored another basket, followed by another Triponey hoop to push the lead to five.
A three by ECC's Devin Constable with just 10 ticks left on the first-quarter clock narrowed the gap to two again.
The first half of the second quarter was all Elk County, as Housler put up a quick basket followed by hoops by Ben Wortman and McCul-lough to give ECC its first lead since 1-0.
Triponey took over from there, setting up Zimmer- man for his first basket of the night off an offensive rebound. Triponey followed Zimmerman's hoop with five consecutive points to give Punxsy its lead back.
Triponey scored another basket late in the quarter, and Janocha added one of his own to extend the lead, but ECC's Constable struck again late in the second to narrow the gap to four.
Neal said his team and coaching staff were prepared for a battle against an ECC squad that has been known for its consistency for some time, and added he knew it wouldn't stop fighting.
"Since our win last Tues- day at DuBois Central, we've been talking about it," Neal said. "We enjoyed that win until the next morning, but then our entire focus for the next week of practice was all about Elk. Coach (Darrin) Kriebel and I talked about their history. Even though they don't have a go-to guy this year, they're still a good defensive team."
In the third quarter, the Chucks answered with a strong defensive effort of their own, holding the Crusaders to just three points and opening up a 34-21 lead.
"They try to beat you off the dribble and beat you to the basket," Neal said. "It just didn't happen tonight. We did an exceptional job at helpside, and once they got behind, the clock was in our favor."
Punxsy scored the first 10 points of the quarter and kept the Crusaders off the board for the first 6:54.
"That was very important," Neal said. "We knew they might try something different. We put the cart before the horse, and were even a little bit over-prepared. But it's always better to be ready for too much. Anything they threw at us, I felt we were comfortable. We're at the point now where we aren't just hitting the panic button."
Triponey led Punxsy's attack in the third quarter with six points, but it was in the third quarter that Zimmerman â€” who scored just two points in the first half â€” really started to come to life and look for the ball, as he scored four points in the paint.
In the fourth quarter, Zimmerman scored six of Punxsy's seven points, and despite the Crusaders narrowly outscoring Punxsy 8-7 in the final frame, the Chucks' lead proved to be more than enough, and they won 41-29.
Zimmerman's 12 points were complemented by 11 rebounds, including four on the offensive end, giving him his first double-double of the season.
Janocha and Mancuso also cleaned up on the boards for Punxsy with eight boards apiece.
Overall, Neal was pleased with the Chucks' performance, but he also knows they can't spend too much time dwelling on this win either, with an out-of-league contest against Harmony just around the corner Thursday.
Harmony plays in the Moshannon Valley League, and Neal said the squad has already proven to be one capable of doing some damage this season.
"They played in DuBois the other night and led after the first quarter," he said. "They're a scrappy team coached by Punxsy's Doug Martz. He has the program heading in the right direction. They're coming off of losing a shooter and a big man from last year, and they're kind of building. But their kids are starting to step forward, so it should be a good game."
Punxsy's JV squad also picked up a victory Tuesday night over ECC, but the game came down to the very last second after ECC fought back to overcome a 10-point deficit after the third quarter to come within one point of tying the game before falling short, 46-45.
ECC's Cory Huff scored 11 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Crusaders' charge, but a pair of late free throws by Cory Geer and a free throw by Michael Klingensmith that proved to be the game-winner sealed the deal for Punxsy.
Devin Nicholson led the scoring attack for the Chucks with 17 points, 13 of which came in the second half including eight unanswered in the third quarter.
Tyler Young was the Chucks' second-highest scorer with seven points, and three different Punxsy players â€” Geer, Matt Burkett and Will Curtis â€” each scored six.
Klingensmith wrapped up Punxsy's scoring with four points, all on fourth-quarter free throws.View more articles in: