St. John Neumann center Alize Johnson told his brother Nasza Short one thing entering the fourth quarter at Montoursville Friday night. He simply said it was time.
It was time for Short to play the way he did last Saturday when he delivered his best performance in a huge win over South Williamsport. Short received the message loud and clear then made his brother proud.
Johnson delivered another terrific performance but Short might have been the difference maker in the fourth quarter, excelling on both ends and helping Neumann pull away for a 45-37 HAC tournament semifinal win over Lewisburg, the state's third-ranked Class AA team. Short had six points, three steals and two rebounds during the final quarter as the Knights broke open a tie game, remained undefeated and earned a much anticipated championship match against Loyalsock Saturday at Williamsport.
"Alize said they needed me," Short said. "He said I had to do the same thing I did against South Williamsport and step up. It was a fun game and I took advantage of the matchup."
It was quite a night for the family, too. Johnson built on his dominant season, scoring 19 points, grabbing 21 rebounds and adding five assists. It was Short, though, who took pressure off his brother in the fourth quarter and was Neumann's leading scorer over the final eight minutes. The junior forward was a huge reason Neumann turned a 30-30 tie into an eight-point win.
The Knights (23-0) held Lewisburg (20-3) to three fourth-quarter field goals and became the first District 4 team other than Loyalsock to beat Lewisburg in the last two years. Short was instrumental, playing outstanding pressure defense, running the floor well and finishing around the basket. He was a constant presence in the fourth quarter and Short's putback off a missed foul shot put Neumann ahead 42-34 with just 1:15 remaining, basically clinching the win.
"His offense is a plus, but when Nasza puts his mind to it he is a great defender and that really gets us going," Neumann coach Paul Petcavage said. "He gets everyone pumped up and they see what he is doing and all they all follow suit."
Lewisburg held Neumann to its second-lowest point total this season and played strong defense, but the Knights proved they can win a slower game, as well. It helped that Johnson was a force again, scoring on drives, off putbacks and with some nice post moves. After Short put Neumann ahead to stay early in the fourth quarter, Johnson scored off a putback to put Neumann ahead, 38-34.
Moments later, Johnson grabbed his 20th rebound, went nearly coast-to-coast and found Kevin Anderson for a layup that extended the lead to six. The senior had a double-double by halftime and helped make sure Lewisburg never took a second-half lead despite the game being so close.
"It's been great getting to play with him," Short said. "He helps me out a lot and we worked hard all summer. Every day we were in the gym. We were able to get into Lycoming and we would go there every day and work out."
Lewisburg was playing without 6-foot-8 center Will Sigl who was sick. His absence was a big one and not just in terms of his production and shot-blocking ability. Sigl also is a calming influence on the court who understands the game well and helps space Lewisburg's offense. The Green Dragons hung tough without Sigl but never could get into an offensive rhythm and made just 14 of 43 shots.
The Dragons ended the third quarter on a 7-2 run and tied it at 30-30 entering the fourth, but Neumann soon seized control. Jesse Flannery scored nine points and dealt five assists while Fedorajka and Sam Allen each added eight points. Had Lewisburg won last night it would have had to play Warrior Run in a makeup game at 11 a.m. before competing in the championship at 7:30.
"Alize Johnson is a fabulous player but I thought Nick Costagliola and Nadir Boone played really tough defense and made him work for everything," Lewisburg coach John Vaji said. "The guys played extremely hard and so did Neumann. With Will out, we couldn't sub for Sam who just came out for a minute and then Jesse played all 32 minutes but the guys really got after it."
Kamaal Burkholder and Noah Beiter may have been Neumann's unsung heroes. Both players combined to swarm Allen who scored 28 points last Friday against Loyalsock. Together, they held him to two first-half field goals and were as pivotal as Johnson and Short in the win.
Sam Allen 3 2-4 8, Matt Fedorajka 3 1-2 8, Jesse Flannery 3 2-2 9, Nick Costagliola 0 0-0 0, Nadir Boone 1 1-2 3, Drew Newcomb 1 0-0 2, Tanner Host 3 0-0 7. Totals 14 6-10 37.
Alize Johnson 8 3-5 19, Richard Allen 3 0-0 6, Njoku Ibe-Amanze 4 0-0 8, Kevin Anderson 1 1-2 3, Noah Beiter 0 0-0 0, Kamaal Burkholder 0 1-4 1, Nasza Short 3 2-2 8, Luke Iarkowski 0 0-0 0. Totals 19 7-13 45.
Lewisburg6 15 9 7-37
Neumann10 12 8 15-45
3-pointers: Lewisburg 3 (Fedorjaka, Flannery, Host).
Records: Neumann 23-0. Lewisburg 19-3.