Following a loud ovation that players and fans reciprocated, the entire St. John Neumann basketball team linked hands and took a bow.
The regular season is over. Perfection has been achieved.
Neumann capped an undefeated regular season Wednesday at the Catholic Community Center as Alize Johnson and Richard Allen dazzled in a 74-44 win over rival Muncy. The Knights (22-0, 14-0 HAC-III) finished what last year's team started when it went 21-1. Big goals lay ahead but as players thanked the fans and vice-versa it was time for a brief celebration.
"We came out blah for some of our games earlier, but today we felt it. We were undefeated, it was Senior Night and we had to impress the home crowd and give them everything we have," said Allen after scoring 18 points, grabbing seven rebounds and dealing six assists. "It's great to be a part of history in the school."
Johnson continued his sensational season, scoring 31 points, grabbing 16 rebounds and dealing eight assists. He was one of six seniors honored before the game and symbolizes how far the program has come. When Johnson was a freshman he was a 5-foot-9 point guard and Neumann endured a 2-20 season. Three years later, he is a 6-5 all-state center and Neumann is seeking its second straight District 4 Class A championship.
He and Neumann have grown together and the Knights now have a unique spot in school history. And it was earned the hard way, playing in the demanding HAC-III that has produced three straight district champions.
"We didn't plan on it and it's not on my list to be undefeated but it is a huge accomplishment to get up for 22 games and not falter," Neumann coach Paul Petcavage said. "We talked before the season about how you're going to have the bulls-eye on your back no matter where you go. You have to be able to weather the storm and keep going and play through everything that happens in different gyms and they've been able to do that."
Neumann is 43-1 the last two regular seasons and undefeated at home. The Knights hit five straight 3-pointers between the first and second quarters while taking a 34-24 halftime lead. Muncy, playing without injured point guard Ted Clark, hung tough until late in the third quarter when Johnson and Allen took over.
The senior duo combined to score Neumann's next 14 points as the Knights built a 64-36 lead midway through the fourth quarter. They set each other up for several of those baskets and distributed the ball as well as they scored. Allen also played outstanding defense and continued showing why he is one of the area's premier guards.
"He's really invaluable because he can do a little bit of everything," Petcavage said. "His scoring has picked up and his defense has always been there for us and all those things are big for us because than they can't watch Alize all the time. They have to pay attention to him."
Muncy had a chance to pull closer at halftime but missed nine foul shots. Muncy coach Jason Gresh said Clark will be fine for the playoffs and was held out as a precaution last night.
Freshman guard Jeff Fry put together a breakout performance, leading Muncy with 16 points. Fry benefited early in the year when two starters were sidelined and his growth was evident last night.
"Jeff stepped up and played well. Those games those kids missed early in the year that's why it helped to have him in there," Gresh said. "It's a familiarity with the game and what we do. He works hard and he has a lot of potential. If he keeps working he could be a good one."
Neumann forward Kamaal Burkholder played a strong game and grabbed 11 rebounds. Njoku-Ibe Amanze added five points and seven rebounds while Cody Forsburg scored a career-high eight points.
A perfect regular season complete, Neumann is hoping to make a big playoff impact. The Knights play Lewisburg Friday at Montoursville in the opening round of the Heartland Conference Tournament. Loyalsock and Shamokin play in the first game at 6.
One mission is complete. The next one is just starting.
"It's a great way to go out. I wouldn't want it any other way," Allen said. "I don't even care about the whole you have to lose to play better. No, this is perfect."
So far, so is Neumann.
Nick Ring 1 1-5 3, Leone Ghezzi 2 8-11 13, Anthony Barberio 2 0-0 4, Derek Sellers 1 4-5 6, Eli Warnick 1 1-2 3, Jeff Fry 6 2-2 16, Zach Zellers 1 0-0 2. Totals 14 16-23 44.
Alize Johnson 12 2-3 31, Richard Allen 8 0-1 18, Njoku-Ibe Amanze 2 1-2 5, Kevin Anderson 2 0-0 4, Noah Beiter 1 0-0 2, Nasza Short 0 0-0 0, Kamaal Burkholder 1 0-0 2, Luke Iarkowski 1 2-2 4, Cody Forsburg 3 1-4 8, Isaac Beiter 0 0-0 0. Totals 30 6-12 74.
Muncy12 12 10 10-44
Neumann16 18 18 22-74
3-pointers: Muncy 3 (Fry 2, Ghezzi); Neumann 8 (Johnson 5, Allen 2, Forsburg).
Records: Neumann 22-0, 14-0 HAC-III. Muncy 12-10, 7-7.
JV Score: Neumann 63-14