PUNXSUTAWNEY — With five of the six top boys' basketball teams in District-IX league play within one game of first place entering Friday night, the Chucks knew they'd have their work cut out for them when they hosted DuBois. The Chucks proved to be up to the challenge with a 65-45 win.
"Our slogan all year has been, 'Protect our house,' Punxsy head coach Dirk Neal said after the game. "And without a doubt in my mind, that job was done tonight. As coaches, we couldn't have asked for anything different. They're a very good team that's beaten and played right with some quad-A schools. But we didn't play to protect the lead. We took good high percentage shots. It was just a total, total team effort tonight."
Punxsy's girls' team won a physical game in DuBois Thursday night, and Friday's encore presentation with the boys proved to be no different.
However, there was a glaring difference between the two games. While the Lady Chucks relied on defense to win a physical battle, 33-25, the boys ended up in a physical shootout with the Beavers. In fact, the teams almost matched the girls' total points in the first half.
Punxsy's Ian Miller, coming off the bench, was the most notable offensive player of the evening, scoring 18 points, including nine down the stretch when Punxsy needed them most to extend its lead. Miller came off the bench when Punxsy senior Alex Fedigan found himself in foul trouble, picking up three in the first 10 minutes.
Miller rose to the challenge, though, and Neal liked what he saw from his senior forward.
"What I like about Ian is that can happen on any given night," Neal said. "He came in early when Alex got into foul trouble, and we were able to get more minutes before we had to put Alex back in by the way Ian was playing. I can't say enough about him. To not score in the first quarter and finish the game our high scorer, that's impressive."
On top of Miller's 18 points, Punxsy's Luke Janocha and and Garrett Zimmerman each finished with double-doubles. Zimmerman scored 10 and nabbed 11 rebounds, including three offensive, and Janocha scored 10 points and hauled in 10 boards.
"Garrett and Luke wanted the ball and got to the boards to get their rebounds," Neal said. "They don't care how much they score. They're just constantly talking about how many rebounds they want to get."
A fourth Punxsy player, Daniel Triponey, was in double digits with 11 points, and Brandon Mancuso just missed the 10-point mark with eight.
Punxsy earned the game's first two points on a pair of successful free throws by Triponey.
But DuBois put the pressure on early with Nate Liddle heating up with three unanswered threes to give the Beavers a 9-2 lead.
Despite the rocky start, Neal said his team didn't panic, a trait it's shown all year, and realized it had to pick away at the lead little by little.
"These guys don't panic," he said. "We talk about that in practice. You can't hit the panic button every time they make a run. You have to play the game and not force it. We harp on them to keep chipping away and play their game."
And chipping away is exactly what Punxsy did throughout the rest of the quarter.
With the horn blowing to end the period, a Zimmerman basket was falling through the net, pulling Punxsy back within one at 15-14.
Miller scored his first two points of the night on a pair of free throws early in the second quarter, giving Punxsy a 16-15 lead. Miller added another quick hoop after Fedigan took a charge on the defensive end of the court, and the Chucks never looked back, outscoring DuBois 41-30 over the final three quarters.
The second quarter saw Punxsy outscore the Beavers 20-7 behind six points apiece by Miller, Mancuso — on a pair of threes — and Janocha.
The third quarter had much lower scoring, but the Chucks still edged the Beavers 12-11, and Miller scored nine in the final quarter to lead the Chucks to a 19-12 scoring margin.
Despite the lopsided score at the end, there were a few times at which Punxsy had to worry about the Beavers coming back after they narrowed the gap to eight late in the second quarter and nine at the beginning of the third.
The first rally, though, was answered by a 9-2 run to end the quarter and give the Chucks some breathing room, and the second was answered by a pair of quick baskets by Janocha and a three by Fedigan to extend the lead back to 16.
"We just kept yelling from the sidelines to play through it," Neal said. "We were missing, but we were getting some good looks, some high percentage shots. And as a coach, you just hope they don't get any closer than they are. Janocha's two hoops in the third put us back up by 13, and you could see the looks in the DuBois players' eyes turning to the clock."
With Punxsy extending the lead, the Chucks outplayed the Beavers from that point forward to finish the deal.
Another area that stood out for Punxsy Friday was the Chucks' free throw shooting.
Punxsy went a perfect 13-13 from the stripe, while DuBois struggled, hitting just 7-14.
"We're a confident team at the line," Neal said. "Every practice, we find time when their legs are tired to shoot free throws. Ninety percent of the foul shots you take in a game are when you're tired or in a crunch, and we shot them with confidence tonight."
After a busy week, during which Punxsy went 2-1, the Chucks have another tough week ahead with a pair of road contests next week.
The Chucks will kick off the week on the road against Bald Eagle Tuesday and finish the week Friday with a league game at Elk County Catholic.
In a JV contest that saw five different fourth-quarter lead changes, the Beavers nearly put an end to Punxsy's perfect season.
In the end, though, clutch free throw shooting sealed the deal for the Chucks, who improved to 13-0 with a 39-35 win, despite playing with just five players and no subs the entire game.
"To win a game like that with no subs and have your guys battle the whole game like that says a lot about these guys," Punxsy JV coach Darrin Kriebel said after the game. "It was a total team effort, and we did what we had to do."
Each team's defense dominated in the first half, and Punxsy trailed 13-11 at the break.
The second half was a different story, though. Both offensives started knocking down their deep shots, and Punxsy's big men stepped up to answer when the Beavers took away the outside shot.
The final lead change took place with 1:13 left on the clock when Matt Burkett knocked down a layup while being fouled. Burkett hit the and-one free throw, and Punxsy never relinquished the lead.
Punxsy's top scorer, Cory Geer, hit a pair of late free throws, and DuBois missed valuable foul shots in the waning minutes.
Geer had 13 points, and Burkett followed closely with 10, eight of which came in the fourth quarter.
Punxsy's Tyler Young had nine second-half points, and Michael Klingensmith had four for the Chucks.
Point guard Clayton Dale had just one point, but it was an important one, which gave the Chucks a four-point lead with 2.3 seconds remaining to put the game out of reach.