PUNXSUTAWNEY — Coming out trailing from the intermission, Punxsy turned up the second-half defensive heat to give Homer Center its first loss of the season, 64-60, Monday night in Punxsutawney.
“Our defense really is improving. We forced some key turnovers on their (Homer Center) end,” pointed out Punxsy coach Dirk Neal. “We hope this win can carry us a long way. It was a great team effort.”
Guard Brandon Mancuso keyed the Punxsy (4-1) come-from-behind victory with a 23-point outpouring. The junior scored 16 of his 23 points in the second 16 minutes. He also added three assists and three steals.
Cory Geer produced his second high double-figure effort in a row. Geer netted 16 points to go with eight rebounds, four assists and a pair of steals. Garrett Zimmerman chipped in 10 points and pulled down seven rebounds. Tyler Young added nine points, all in the second half, with two assists.
Devin Nicholson had only two points, but made up in the lower point total with four assists, two blocks and a steal while guarding the Homer Center (4-1) top scorer in the second half.
On defense in the second half, Nicholson had the assignment of guarding Joe Capitosti. The Wildcat player pumped in 18 points in the first half but the Punxsy senior held him to four in the second two quarters.
Will Curtis and John Matthews put in buckets off the Chucks’ bench.
Trailing 29-25 at the half, the Chucks quickly turned the tables on the scoreboard. Geer blocked a Wildcat shot before Mancuso drained a triple from a Nicholson pass.
Mancuso stole the ball on the ensuing Homer Center possession and took it the length of the court for a 30-29 lead only two minutes into the third quarter.
Two minutes later, the two opponents saw the game tied at 33.
After missing on four straight attempts, Punxsy saw its offense begin from the defensive effort. Following a Wildcat turnover, Geer laid the ball in off a Young assist to edge ahead, 35-33, at 2:35 in the third quarter.
The Chucks went to a zone defense following their immediate timeout. On Homer Center’s first try, Mancuso swiped the visitors’ pass, and lofted the ball ahead to Geer, who put in the layup and eventually recorded the conventional three-point play for a 38-33 tally.
The Wildcats netted the final four points of the third stanza for a 38-37 Chucks' lead.
On the momentum of two different types of three-point plays, the Chucks built an early 48-40 lead in the fourth quarter.
Mancuso dropped a triple before Young made all three foul shots after being fouled attempting his own three-point play.
Geer extended the advantage to the game’s largest, 51-40, with five minutes left after making a layup, stealing the ensuing possession and making an additional foul shot.
Trailing 53-42, Homer Center turned to its long-range attack. The Wildcats hit three treys in a two-minute span to pull back within six at 59-53 with 1:33 left.
On a key turn against the Homer Center pressure, Nicholson found Young on the left block to bank in a running jumper for a 62-56 score with 29 seconds to go.
Isiah Carr connected on a jumper and added an uncontested layup with 1.7 seconds left for a 62-60 score. Upon being fouled on the inbound pass, Mancuso sealed the Punxsy victory with two foul shots with 0.2 left for what would be the 64-60 final.
“We did a really good job of attacking their zone. In the second half, we didn’t let their trap be as effective as it was in the first half,” explained Neal.
The Chucks inside men worked all night on not necessarily getting the rebounds but tipping them in key situations to teammates to gain possession.
“We just didn’t always grab the boards inside with Geer, Curtis and Zimmerman but they kept the ball alive on rebounds for us,” noted Neal. “Our bench is really helping us this year as well with the minutes, effort and there not being any drop off on the court when they are in the game for us.”
To start, the Wildcats Capitosti downed a jumper from the top of the key and added a three-pointer to edge his team to a 13-11 first quarter lead.
Homer Center did not relinquish the lead the rest of the first half by winning the second quarter, 16-14. Behind Capitosti’s 18 points, the Wildcats held a 29-25 intermission lead.
Capitosti finished with a team-high 22 points. Matt Jones and Carr added 12 and 11 points to complete the Homer Center leaders.
In the night’s opening junior varsity affair, Punxsy held Homer Center scoreless in the final quarter to come from 11 points down to win by eight, 38-30.
Trailing 30-19 when the third-quarter buzzer sounded, the JV Chucks chipped away at the margin.
Down 30-24, Matthews pumped in a three-pointer with 4:40 left before a Curtis free throw and steal. Following his steal, Curtis dished to Matthews, who banked in a running jumper for the tie, 30-30, with 2:58 left.
After a Curtis misfire, Matthews grabbed the offensive rebound and put in an inside jump shot for the 33-30 lead with 46 seconds left.
Punxsy added five more points from the foul line from there for the 19-0 final quarter and 38-30 victory to remain perfect at 4-0.
Matthews garnered top scoring honors with 17 points, 10 coming in the final frame.
Ryan Sloniger added seven points with four of his in the fourth, while Curtis chipped in five of his six tallies in the final stanza.
Michael Klingensmith had five points, with Clayton Dale and Matt Burkett rounding out the scoring with two and one to their credit.
Punxsy will stay at home, where it will entertain Harmony on Thursday starting at 6 p.m.