Falling out of bounds, Montoursville's Matt Krezmer tried throwing the basketball off Alize Johnson inches away. It is a play that usually works, but the ball bounced off Johnson and Neumann teammate Tyree Vidal soon cradled the loose ball. Seconds later, Neumann scored and continued a big run.
It truly seemed like Johnson could do no wrong. Neither could Jordan Cole.
Together, Johnson and Cole played some brilliant basketball and helped Neumann win a hard-fought 57-48 game against pesky Montoursville Wednesday at the Catholic Community Center. The two returning starters from last year's state qualifier combined for 39 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists. They also hit 12 of their last 19 shots as Neumann (7-0) improved on its best start this century and showed it can win the tough games after blowing out five previous opponents.
"We have good chemistry, everybody on the team does," said Johnson, who scored a game-high 20 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and dealt four assists. "We're getting everyone involved too and that feels good."
"This was a good game for us. Montoursville is good competition and they came to play," Neumann coach Paul Petcavage said. "Lourdes was our first big test and this was a nice test for us."
It was a test it looked like Neumann might fail when the Warriors (2-7) took a three-point second-quarter lead. Montoursville actually could have built a substantial halftime lead but missed 8 of 11 first-half foul shots.
Montoursville's failure to put Neumann on the ropes proved big when Cole shook off a slow start and heated up. The senior guard swished three straight long-range jumpers, scored Neumann's last seven points of the first half and helped the Knights pull even at halftime.
Cole was 1 for 7 before his late first-half flurry and never cooled off, scoring in a variety of ways in the second half. He scored seven fourth-quarter points and missed only one shot during that time. Cole and Johnson assisted each other on back-to-back possessions and Cole's 3-pointer gave Neumann an 11-point lead with 6:34 remaining.
"We played great ball. Luckily my shot going because I was really cold until then," Cole said. "My coaches and teammates keep telling me to shoot and they have confidence in me and I appreciate it."
Johnson missed the final four minutes of the first half after picking up his second foul but made a quick impact in the second half. He had seven points, five rebounds and an assists in the third-quarter's first five minutes, sparking a 10-0 run that turned a one-point deficit into a nine-point lead.
"Alize had a great all-around game," Petcavage said. "He's fun to watch."
So was Montoursville at times. The Warriors came in as big underdogs but did not play like one, shredding Neumann's defense at times in the first half. Montoursville avoided the turnovers that have plagued it at times but went cold in the second half and never pulled closer than six after Johnson's third-quarter flurry.
Pierce Ranck recorded his fifth straight 20-point game, finishing with 20 points, eight rebounds, five assists and five steals. Matt Krezmer added 10 points, Jalile Best grabbed eight rebounds and Quintin Persun dealt four assists. The Warriors have played nearly everyone on their schedule tough and look outstanding at times but, as happened again last night, have been done in by three or four-minute spurts in which the opponent goes on decisive big runs.
"We had shots we wanted and we look back at the game and if we make the shots we should have made, in addition to our foul shots, we feel like we could have won that game," Montoursville coach Mark Molesky said. "It seems like we're snakebitten. It's being that complete game that we're looking for."
Neumann won despite enduring a sub-par shooting night through the first three quarters. What the Knights lacked in productivity they made up for with hustle and tenacious play. Tyree Vidal grabbed 10 rebounds, Richard Allen had eight points, six assists and six rebounds and Noah Beiter played outstanding defense.
The Knights moved the ball well and had 17 assists. They also hit 7 of 13 fourth-quarter shots and built momentum with a game against undefeated Sullivan County looming Tuesday.
"This shows we can win the tough games against tough teams," Cole said. "We're good friends, we play together a lot and we play well together."
Pierce Ranck 8 3-14 20, Matt Krezmer 4 1-3 10, Zach Pepperman 1 0-0 2, Jalile Best 3 0-0 7, Quintin Helm 0 0-0 0, Quintin Persun 1 3-4 5, Sean O'Malley 0 0-0 0, Curtis Miller 2 0-0 4, Derrick Evans 0 0-0 0. Totals 19 7-21 48.
Alize Johnson 7 4-4 20, Tyree Vidal 3 0-0 6, Richard Allen 4 0-2 8, Jordan Cole 8 1-2 19, Noah Beiter 0 0-0 0, Ryan Reid 1 2-2 4, Isaac Beiter 0 0-0 0. Totals 23 7-10 57.
Montoursville10 16 9 13-48
Neumann15 11 16 15-57
3-pointers: Montoursville 3 (Ranck, Krezmer, Best); Neumann 4 (Johnson 2, Cole 2).
Records: Neumann 7-0. Montoursville 2-7.