Sock, Neumann rivalry did not disappoint
A crowd followed Aiden Gair as he navigated throughout the Catholic Community Center Sunday afternoon. And that was after the thrilling Loyalsock-St. John Neumann ended. They, too, had little success slowing him down.
Few had ever witnessed an individual performance like the one Gair delivered and whatever one’s affiliation, whether family, friend or rival, they all paid their respects. A stage stands beyond the south basket at Neumann’s gym, but Gair made the entire court his stage yesterday and had a crowd that sold out the facility before the JV game started watching in awe.
Gair scored a career-high 44 points, including 23 in the second quarter, and Loyalsock turned a nine-point second-quarter deficit into a 16-point halftime lead. Gair and the Lancers never took their foot off the gas and defeated Neumann, 102-86 as long-time rivals renewed their city rivalry for the first time since 2014. Saraj Ali produced a double-double, Rees Watkins stuffed the stat sheet and Idris Ali added 14 points as Loyalsock (12-0) won its 12th straight game.
But it was Gair’s Academy Award-like performance which stole the show.
“How do you stop 44 points from a guy that doesn’t miss? It was unbelievable,” Neumann coach Joe Clark said. “I looked at him and was waiting for him to give me a Michael Jordan (shoulder shrug).”
Jordan famously produced that shrug after draining a then-record six 3-pointers in the 1992 NBA Finals. And even the greatest to ever play the game likely would have applauded Gair’s scoring barrage. The senior guard literally could not miss during the second quarter, drilling 11 straight shots from the field and foul line. The only shot he missed came on a buzzer-beating desperation heave.
It is not like these were easy shots either. Gair opened the quarter with a 3-pointer, two free throws and another 3-pointer as Loyalsock pulled within a point. Anyone who has watched Gair play the last two years understands that when he starts heating up he is hard to cool off. Gair, however, was hotter than the sun and the tighter Neumann (9-2) guarded him, the better he played.
Gair started drilling 3-pointers from just inside the jump circle. He started draining fade-away NBA-range 3-pointers. He attacked the basket, split three defenders and completed a marvelous up and under move on his most impressive foray inside. He hit shots with defenders draped on him and went into a zone that might make Larry Bird blush. By the time that second-quarter burst was over, Gair had scored 23 points, hit four of his eight 3-pointers, went 5 for 5 at the line, pushed his point total to 29 and helped Loyalsock build a 54-38 lead it never relinquished.
“All my shots in the first quarter were going in and out and I was getting a little frustrated. Then I was at the free throw line and I missed the first one and I heard some chirping from the Neumann kids saying this is how it’s going to be all game and I turned it up on them,” Gair said. “That second quarter I just got locked in mentally and just wanted to get the ball in the hole.”
“When he starts stroking it and he feels it, he’s deadly. He’s just unconscious,” Loyalsock coach Ron Insinger said. “He’s just a phenomenal athlete if he puts his mind to it. Sometimes you really have to almost scold him to get what you want from him, but when he turns it up he opens up a lot of eyes.”
Gair kept the eyes wide open in the second half. He picked up where he left off, scoring 10 more points in the quarter’s first two minutes and Loyalsock eventually opened a 24-point lead. Gair’s seventh 3-pointer capped off one of the most explosive 10-minute stretches in recent area history. During that time, Gair scored 33 points and made 15 of 16 shots from the field and line, including six 3-pointers.
Less than three minutes into the third quarter, Gair already had scored 37 points. He knocked down his eighth and final 3-pointer a minute into the fourth quarter and received a hearty ovation when he exited the game with 2 minutes, 11 seconds left. Gair’s 44 points were a district-high this season. He topped 40 points for a second time and the 44 points were the most by an area player since Neumann’s Alize Johnson scored 47 against Muncy in 2014.
“Once I hit one or two, it’s whether I’m fading away, it’s whoever is in front of me, I feel like it’s going to go in,” Gair said. “We needed this win and it was a great game to play in.”
“Once he feels it, it’s pretty fun to watch,” Insinger said. “It has that great effect at the other end, too.”
Indeed, Loyalsock turned up the defense in that second quarter and forced seven turnovers while going on a 36-11 game-changing run. Gair’s shooting clinic also opened up the inside and his teammates ate. Ali scored 14 of his career-high 18 points in the second half, making all eight of his shots from the field and line during that stretch. Watkins produced 16 points, five rebounds, five assists and five steals, hitting his last four shots, including two 3-pointers. Julian Wilson added nine rebounds off the bench and Loyalsock shot 58.3 percent from the field over the final three quarters, while going 22 of 26 at the line.
Loyalsock needed all that production against a determined Neumann team which never backed down. The Knights started strong and Josiah Reid’s seven quick points helped spark a 27-point first quarter. Neumann regrouped after the second quarter and scored 48 second-half points, but Loyalsock always countered. Davion Hill went into Gair-mode in the fourth quarter, connecting on four straight 3-pointers and Neumann pulled within 90-75 at the four-minute mark. The Ali brothers answered with four straight points, though, and Loyalsock put the game away, reaching 100 points with two minutes remaining.
Hill and older brother David played fantastic games. Davion scored 29 points, grabbed five rebounds and added three steals. David scored 25 of his 27 points through the first three quarters, adding seven rebounds, four assists and three steals.
“The cream rises to the top in big games and I think they showed just how good they are and their potential, too,” Clark said. “Both of them are young and that’s a beautiful thing.”
So was yesterday’s game.
Aiden Gair 15 8-9 44, Rees Watkins 6 2-2 16, Saraj Ali 8 2-2 18, Idris Ali 4 4-5 14, Rivers Parrish 1 0-0 2, Julian Wilson 0 2-2 2, Dane Armson 1 0-0 2, Sean Jensen 0 1-2 1, Eli Gair 0 2-2 2, Rohin Sagar 0 1-2 1. Totals 34 22-26 102.
Davion Hill 5 7-7 29, David Hill 12 3-5 27, Malaki Parlante 3 0-0 6, Keon Burkholder 5 0-1 10, Josiah Reid 3 1-2 9, Naamon Amos 0 0-0 0, Forman Stewart 1 0-0 2, Kane Wright 1 0-0 3. Totals 34 11-15 86.
Loyalsock 18 36 27 21–102
Neumann 27 11 21 27–86
3-pointers: Loyalsock 12 (Gair 8, Watkins 2, I. Ali 2); Neumann 7 (Davion Hill 4, Reid 2, Wright).
Records: Loyalsock 12-0. Neumann 9-2.
JV Score: Loyalsock 72-30.