Anderson showing confidence in Neumann’s run

Kevin Anderson dribbled twice, squared up and released the ball. The game was tied, less than six minutes remained and the winner earned a Class A Final 4 appearance.

A lot was riding on each play, but Anderson never hesitated. He may be only a freshman, but Anderson has a man’s confidence.

The moment was not too big, he was not too nervous, and he took the shot. Anderson made it, too. There were so many pivotal plays in the game but Anderson’s 3-pointer from three-feet beyond the arc proved as big as any.

That clutch shot gave Neumann a three-point lead and it never trailed again as it went on to beat New Hope Academy, 78-68, in the state quarterfinals. The Knights (30-0) are Final 4-bound for the first time since 1972, and Tuesday they play Math, Civics and Sciences in the Eastern Region championship. The gutty freshman is a big reason why.

“It feels great,” Anderson said. “This is the first time something like this has happened to me.”

Anderson scored six second-half points against New Hope. It was when he scored them that was so pivotal. His pull-up jumper mid-way through the third quarter was part of an 8-0 run that put Neumann ahead 43-40 three minutes after all-state forward Alize Johnson exited after picking up his fourth foul.

His biggest play, however, came a quarter later. In a game that was going back and forth, Anderson drained his go-ahead 3-pointer, swishing the shot and giving Neumann a huge boost. Make no mistake, Anderson is still learning and makes mistakes. It is the ability to make those kind of timely plays at such a young age that makes the good far outweigh the bad.

“I knew I missed the first one I took,” Anderson said. “I knew if I shoot again I better make sure it’s going in.”

“I think he’s one of the best freshmen in the city right now,” Johnson said. “He hits big shots when we need them and that’s huge. Not too many freshmen can do that.”

Not too many freshmen start for an undefeated, state semifinalist, either. Anderson, though, has started since Day 1. It was an immediate vote of confidence from coach Paul Petcavage. Neumann had high expectations after winning 24 games, capturing the district championship and reaching the state tournament’s second round last year.

That Petcavage would insert Anderson so soon into the starting lineup on a team with state championship expectations showed how talented the young player is. He has not let Neumann down either, providing some scoring, good passing and solid defense. Anderson had nine assists in his first two state tournament games and rose to the occasion against New Hope.

It was a big statement after Anderson struggled in the second round against Phil-Mont Christian. For one of the few times all season, Anderson played like a freshman. He dealt four assists but also had some costly turnovers and did not look as confident as in games past. Neumann rallied to win, 51-48 and Anderson earned another chance to show what he can do.

Anderson was up and down early, but came back strong in the second half when Neumann needed him most. The freshman guard grew stronger as the game progressed and was especially key to the team’s performance when Johnson went out.

“The (Phil-Mont) game he did (play like a freshman) but we talked to him about it and he came through. He hit that big shot and that was big for us,” junior forward Nasza Short said. “We were happy for him. It’s good for him. We talked to him before the game and he definitely played a good game.”

More important than the stats Friday was that Anderson played smarter as the game continued. In the first half he floated some passes that were intercepted or knocked away. Petcavage told him he could not throw those lazy types of passes against the fast teams Neumann is now playing. Anderson listened, absorbed the information and played better.

Doing so helped Neumann reach rare air.

“I think he was a little shell-shocked the last game against Phil-Mont and we had had a practice where we had 15 guys defending our 5 and we said you can’t dribble against it,” Petcavage said. “We told him, if you dribble you’re going to get stripped so you have to pass and cut and pass and move. He didn’t do a perfect job (Friday), but he obviously did enough.”

Anderson is young but dangerous. He is fast, can shoot, handles the ball well and has nice range. He plays mostly shooting guard but also filled in at point guard when starter Richard Allen was briefly injured against Greenwood. He then helped key a game-changing 10-0 run that ended the first half and paved the way for a 64-50 first-round state tournament win.

The scary thing is Anderson is just a work in progress. He is good now but can grow so much better. Plays like the one he made Friday might just be the start.

And Neumann is hoping that growing process continues Tuesday against MCS.

“I think he was a little nervous but that was a huge shot,” Petcavage said. “He stepped up huge down the stretch and he’s going to be quite the player.”