Alize Johnson split two defenders as he raced toward the basket. Halfway down the lane, he took off and threw down a highlight-reel one-hand power dunk. That play provided the exclamation point as St. John Neumann thumped Wellsboro, 65-45 Wednesday at the Catholic Community Center.
It was all the plays that came before the dunk, however, which showed how dangerous Neumann can be. The Knights have some new faces and new roles this season, but everything finally came together. Starters and reserves played well, everyone unselfishly moved the ball, the defense was outstanding and Neumann (7-0) made a nice statement against a 2013 Class AA state qualifier.
"It's nice when we all play together. It felt like last year," guard Richard Allen said. "We were going back and forth, making them run and having fun."
St. John Neumann’s Richard Allen drives down the lane against Wellsboro during the third quarter on Wednesday night at St. John Neumann. The Knights defeated the Green Hornets, 65-45, to move to 7-0. View additional photos at cu.sungazette.com
Johnson recorded a triple-double with two minutes remaining in the third quarter, leading a well-rounded collective effort. He scored 19 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and dealt 11 assists. Allen added 16 points, five rebounds and five assists while Nasza Short had 14 points and five rebounds off the bench. Neumann made 15 of 23 second-half shots to break open the game and nearly every shot was a high-percentage one.
Despite steamrolling through its first six games and beating each team by 18 or more points, the Knights felt like something was missing. Not everyone seemed to be on the same page a season after Neumann captured its first district championship since 2000. That changed last night as the Knights showed how good they can really be.
"Alize did his thing and topped it with a nice play, but everybody contributed," Neumann coach Paul Petcavage said. "That's what I'm most proud of. We looked like a team for really the first time this year."
It was an impressive performance coming four nights after Wellsboro threw a serious scare into the state's No. 6-ranked Class AA team, Lewisburg. Neumann dominated from the start, building an early nine-point lead. It moved ahead by 11 midway through the second quarter and Wellsboro (5-3) never pulled within single digits again.
Wellsboro guard Mike Pietropola scored a game-high 20 points and hit six 3-pointers, but Neumann stifled all other aspects of the Hornets' offense. Noah Beiter helped hold leading scorer Kieron Smethers to one point and, together, the defense held the team's top two scorers to nine combined points.
Wellsboro coach Todd Outman declined to comment afterward.
The Hornets cut a 16-point deficit to 10 at halftime on Pietropola's last-second 3-pointer but the momentum did not last. Neumann opened the third quarter on a 9-2 run as Allen really started asserting himself. The senior guard, one of three starters back from last year's 24-win team, scored 12 second-half points and added three assists.
Allen played strong defense, was brilliant in the open court and made all six of his second-half shots. Allen had a hand in 14 of Neumann's 20 third-quarter points and his layup off Johnson's assist made it 51-28 while giving Johnson a triple-double.
"The first half I didn't think I did a lot but the second half I feel like I was getting my second wind," Allen said. "I wanted to be up by 20 the whole time. I didn't even want them to be close and we played a lot of unselfish basketball out there."
"He (Allen) is an important cog. He contributes defensively and offensively," Petcavage said. "He doesn't seem to run out of energy."
None of the Knights did last night. Even with victory secured late in the game, players like Kamaal Burkholder were hustling after loose balls and keeping possessions alive with hard work. Ryan Reid helped Neumann dominate the boards and freshman guard Kevin Anderson again showed a lot of potential while scoring eight points.
And Johnson found the perfect way to cap the team's complete performance. The all-state center caught a pass near the top of the key, split the defenders and threw down his power dunk over another defender as nearly everyone in the gym stood and applauded.
"I didn't think he was going to do it," Allen said. "I said, 'What is he doing?' The plan was to pull it out, but he took off and everybody there was like, 'Oh my gosh.'"
Kieron Smethers 0 1-2 1, Joe Doganiero 3 2-2 8, Mike Pietropola 6 2-4 20, Dylan Prough 2 3-3 7, Dawson Prough 2 4-4 8, Nick Marple 0 0-0 0, Jacob Mitchell 0 1-4 1. Totals 13 13-19 45.
Alize Johnson 8 3-4 19, Richard Allen 8 0-0 16, Nasza Short 7 0-0 14, Noah Beiter 1 0-0 2, Kevin Anderson 2 2-3 8, Ryan Reid 1 0-0 2, Kamaal Burkholder 2 0-0 4, Luke Iarkowski 0 0-0 0, Cody Forsburg 0 0-0 0, Otis Anderson 0 0-0 0. Totals 29 5-8 65.
Wellsboro6 15 11 13-45
Neumann12 16 20 17-65
3-pointers: Wellsboro 6 (Pietropola 6); Neumann 2 (Anderson 2).
Records: Neumann 7-0. Wellsboro 5-3.
Alysa Davey-Bostic scored a career-high 17 points and Tournament MVP Ali Hillson had 12 points and 7 assists as Mansfield defeated Allegheny-Limestone, 54-40, and captured the Prattsburgh Tournament championship. Kaitlyn Garverick and Simone Lichty combined for 19 points.