Defense is king, Chucks earn first win of season

MARION CENTER — The Punxsy boys' basketball team earned its first victory of the young season Saturday in a low-scoring battle against the West Shamokin Wolves in the consolation game of the Marion Center second-annual Cancer Awareness Tip-Off Tournament, 33-25.

Punxsy head coach Dirk Neal said in the preseason, defense was his team's strength, and after falling behind late in a shootout against Marion Center Friday night, the Chucks' defense settled in and contained the Wolves to just 16 points through the first three quarters to pull away and win.

"Coming in, we were just looking to try to salvage a win out of the tournament and start heading in the right direction," Neal said. "Credit our defense, because when we weren't scoring, we were causing havoc and turnovers on the other end. We were in some ruts offensively, but one thing that's nice about these guys is they play really solid defense."

Both teams struggled to find any offensive momentum coming out of the gates, but West Shamokin's Anthony Rocco put the Wolves on the scoreboard two minutes into the game with a basket.

Punxsy's Garrett Zimmerman evened the score on the Chucks' next possession, but Damon Craig answered right back to push the Wolves' lead back to 4-2.

Both offenses again quieted down as defense ruled until just two minutes remained in the quarter.

Punxsy point guard Daniel Triponey, who was banged up after running head on into a Marion Center defender Friday, started a rally for the offense with a strong take to the hoop to even the score at four.

After another Wolves' basket, Triponey gave the Chucks their first lead of the game, knocking down a three-pointer, and Ian Miller added a layup on the Chucks' next offensive possesion to push the lead to three.

It seemed the Chucks would lead at the break, but West Shamokin's Zane Clouser threw up a last-second three that found nothing but net to tie the game with one second remaining in the quarter.

Neither team carried over the offensive momentum into the second quarter, though, and both teams settled into a defensive mode by holding the other scoreless for the first two minutes of the second.

Zimmerman provided the spark the Chucks needed with 5:43 remaining in the half with a basket that was quickly answered by West Shamokin's Clowser, but the Chucks owned the rest of the second quarter, outscoring the Wolves 11-2 and essentially putting the game out of reach.

Brandon Mancuso struck first for Punxsy with a deep three that energized the Punxsy bench, and senior Alex Fedigan finished on a nice pass from Luke Janocha to further extend the Chucks lead.

West Shamokin answered to come within two again, but back-to-back threes by Fedigan sent the Chucks into halftime with a 22-13 lead.

The third quarter was all about defense with each team managing just three points over the eight-minute span.

Punxsy struggled taking care of the ball early, turning it over on its first three possessions, but Janocha took a charge on the defensive end of a Wolves' fast break and Neal told his team to let that be a turning point.

Though they didn't manage many points the rest of the quarter, Neal noted that the Chucks took better care of the ball and played solid defense to maintain their lead.

"Luke bailed us out that one time," Neal said. "After three consecutive turnovers, he bailed us out and took that charge to turn the momentum."

With two minutes left in the third quarter, Triponey was called for his third offensive charge, sending him to the bench for a break, but Neal pointed out his team played very well to stay ahead without its starting point guard on the floor.

"That's a very good team win for us to circulate around an ailing teammate," he said. "The rest of the team picked it up and did some really good things."

In the fourth quarter, the Chucks slowed their offense down a bit and tried to capitalize on scoring chances that were wide open, and although West Shamokin outscored Punxsy 9-8 in the final frame, the Chucks' lead was safe.

Zimmerman, whose eight points matched the team-high with Alex Fedigan, notched four in the fourth quarter to leave the Chucks' cushion, and Triponey added a pair of free throws late before West Shamokin conceded to the lead and stopped fouling.

After Zimmerman and Fedigan, Triponey was the next-highest scorer with seven points, and Janocha chipped in with four.

Neal was very pleased with Janocha's performance and aggressiveness on both ends of the court, especially in areas that don't always show up on the stat sheet.

"Luke Janocha, (Friday) and (Saturday) was just phenomenal on the boards," Neal said. "The success he had in football is just rolling over into the basketball season. Is he going to miss once in a while? Of course, everyone's going to miss, but when these kids miss, they aren't hanging their heads. They're bouncing back."

Neal said he was pleased with the way his team played at the Tip-Off Tournament and said he hopes they can carry some of the momentum into the opening of the regular season, as the Chucks will play their next five games on their home court.

Punxsy opens the regular season Tuesday night against Redbank Valley and will host rival Brookville Friday, as well.

Prior to the varsity game Saturday, the JV team opened its season with a convincing 47-30 win over West Shamokin's JV squad.

The game was close after three quarters, but Punxsy outscored the Wolves 15-6 in the fourth to pad the margin and earn a 'W' in its opening game.

Things didn't look promising as West Shamokin jumped out to a 5-0 lead early in the first quarter, but a hoop by Tyler Young and a pair of free-throws by Cory Geer put Punxsy back within one at the end of the first quarter.

The Wolves regained the lead and jumped ahead 15-11 in the second quarter, but Punxsy ended with an 11-2 run that saw five different Chucks score to lead 22-17 at halftime.

The Chucks never looked back in the second half and cruised to a 47-30 victory.

Punxsy junior Devin Nicholson led the way with 20 points, with Young and Geer each adding eight.

Will Curtis added seven points, Matt Burkett had three, and Clayton Dale added a free-throw.

The JVs will tip-off the Chucks' regular season against Redbank Valley Tuesday at 6 p.m. with the varsity game to follow.