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Julian Wilson helps Loyalsock beat backyard rival Neumann in a thriller, 84-81

Any time the basketball became loose Tuesday night, Loyalsock and St. John Neumann players were diving on top of each other pursuing it. It was a similar story when the ball bounced off the rim and a sea of arms and legs rose high after it.

Loyalsock made runs, Neumann answered and vice versa. This was like Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier exchanging haymakers with neither opponent backing up.

In a game which featured so many excellent performances, though, it was Loyalsock’s big man who ultimately may have made the biggest difference.

Loyalsock 6-foot-8 center Julian Wilson played his best scholastic game, scoring 13 points, grabbing nine rebounds and dealing three assists as Loyalsock won an 84-81 backyard rivalry thriller. Other players scored more and produced more rebounds, but it was when Wilson did his damage that mattered so much.

Seemingly every time Neumann was on the verge of completely erasing what was a 12-point second-quarter deficit Wilson answered as Loyalsock (18-1) prevailed in a game of defending district champions which literally came down to the final shot.

“It was really fun. I just wanted to make some big plays for my teammates and give them a little energy when they needed it,” Wilson said. “They were getting close so, it was nice to push us forward and help us get the win.”

It was the hardest-earned win Loyalsock (18-1) has recorded this season. The Lancers never trailed, but also could never shake Neumann (13-2) after building that 12-point second-quarter lead. Davion Hill (33 points) and David Hill (29) were both spectacular and Neumann pulled within four twice in the third quarter and nearly erased an eight-point deficit in the final 39.9 seconds.

David Hill hit an NBA-range 3-pointer and three straight foul shots before feeding JerVal Weeks-Shuler for a layup with eight seconds left which cut the deficit to 83-81. Loyalsock was able to take its time on the ensuing inbound play since Neumann was out of timeouts and Dom Jennings hit a foul shot with 1.9 seconds remaining that put Loyalsock ahead 84-81. Davion Hill threw up a half-court heave at the buzzer that looked like it might go in before fading to the right and banking off the glass as Loyalsock collectively breathed a sigh of relief.

The Lancers never landed that knockout blow, but they won quite a dramatic decision.

“I was happy how the kids responded,” Neumann coach Jamie Spencer said. “Loyalsock is very good. They handled the pressure, they hit shots and we gave them our best effort and, unfortunately, we just came up a little short, but I’m proud of the kids hanging in.”

“It was a terrific backyard brawl. Neither team ever felt at any moment that they were out of it. Everybody made their little runs,” Loyalsock coach Ron Insinger said. “It was a game that had a little bit of everything. It literally did.”

That include Loyalsock point guard Idris Ali putting together another dazzling performance which included 24 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and four steals. Jennings matched his career-high with 22 points, Eli Gair scored 15 and Sean Jensen provided 10 points and 8 rebounds. Jennings scored 12 second-quarter points and drained three 3-pointers which gave Loyalsock its biggest lead.

As impressive as all that is, it probably would not have produced a win had Wilson not played so well. The senior center was inserted into the starting lineup when explosive forward Saraj Ali was injured two weeks ago. He has produced well during that span and was at his best when Loyalsock needed him most Tuesday.

Wilson helped Loyalsock start strong, scoring five points and pulling down six rebounds in the first quarter when it took a 20-16 lead. And when Neumann came storming back in the third quarter, twice pulling within four, it was Wilson who answered with baskets inside each time.

Neumann trailed 70-67 when Wilson showed off his passing touch, finding a cutting Jennings for a fourth-quarter layup. He then scored inside after Neumann again made it a 3-point game before whipping a perfect pass to Gair for a layup which put Loyalsock ahead 78-71 with 1:40 remaining.

From there, Jennings and Jensen hit five free throws to help fight off another Neumann rally and seal the victory.

“I wasn’t thinking much of it. I was thinking stay positive and be cool. We know how to close out quarters and keep our composure, so I don’t think we were ever nervous at all,” Wilson said. “I like getting people the ball more than I like scoring. When I need to score, I’m happy to do it but it was nice seeing Dom and Eli on the backcuts. That was something we were able to take advantage of.”

“He’s getting better and better. I think we could have gone to him a lot more inside because he’s tough,” Insinger said. “He not only has a big body, but he has a nice soft touch and has some good big man moves.”

Loyalsock needed all those moves to fight off Neumann. Davion (33 points, 5 assists) and David (29 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists) were outstanding all game, but especially in the fourth quarter when they tried willing Neumann to victory. Both players scored 10 fourth-quarter points, and both went 6 for 7 from the field and line during that time.

Loyalsock led 63-55 after three quarters, but Davion scored six straight quick Neumann points to open the fourth and David’s drive pulled it within 65-63 less than two minutes in. When Gair hit both ends of a 1-and-1 with 39.9 seconds left and put Loyalsock up, 81-73 it appeared Neumann might be finished.

Wrong. David Hill drained his long 3 with a hand in his face before calmly draining three free throws after being fouled attempting a 3-pointer and finding Shuler for a basket. Naseer Dymeck played some outstanding defense over the final quarter and a half and scored 10 points. Weeks-Shuler had five rebounds, two assists and two steals as Neumann gave a team which routinely has blown out opponents this season a serious scare.

“The kids really competed. They had a good mindset,” Spencer said. “We had the mindset going in that we were the underdog. It was a backyard rivalry game and we really wanted it, but at the same time, this is really going to help us.”

“It was just a great game,” Insinger said. “The Hill boys put on a clinic. They did some fantastic things.”

So did Ali.

The senior point guard has shined throughout the season and produced a virtuoso performance. Ali had a double-double by the third quarter and was as electric scoring as he was setting up teammates. He scored 16 points and a six-point flurry which Ali concluded with a rebound and a coast-to-coast reverse layup had Loyalsock up 55-47 midway through the the quarter.

“He really stepped it up and he’s had games like this where he’s pretty much unstoppable. I would argue that he’s one of the best guards in Central Pennsylvania,” Insinger said. “He just has such good court sense. He’s a quiet leader. He’s a coach’s dream.”

And for community basketball fans, so was Tuesday’s game.

NEUMANN (81)

David Hill 11 4-5 29, Davion Hill 12 7-9 33, Keon Burkholder 2 0-2 4, Naseer Dymeck 4 0-0 10, Naz Smith 0 1-2 1, JerVal Weeks-Shuler 2 0-0 4, Ryan McNamee 0 0-0 0, Essex Taylor 0 0-0 0. Totals 31 12-18 81.

LOYALSOCK (84)

Idris Ali 11 2-7 24, Eli Gair 5 3-4 15, Dom Jennings 7 4-7 22, Sean Jensen 3 3-4 10, Julian Wilson 6 1-4 13, Brendan Clark 0 0-2 0, Nate Bauman 0 0-0 0. Totals 32 13-28 84.

Neumann 16 19 20 26–81

Loyalsock 20 24 19 21–84

3-point goals: Neumann 7 (David Hill 3, Davion Hill 2, Dymeck 2), Loyalsock 7 (Jennings 4, Gair 2, Jensen 1).

Records: Loyalsock (18-1), Neumann (13-2).

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