Burkholder, Weeks-Shuler help Neumann reach District 4 Class A final
The action unfolded so fast that the plays Keon Burkholder and JerVal Weeks-Shuler made during a game-changing third-quarter surge might have gone unnoticed.
Look at the replays, though, and one can see those moments being among the game’s most pivotal. The boxscore will not show it, but Burkholder and Weeks-Shuler made massive contributions Saturday at the Catholic Community Center and both helped St. John Neumann win a hard-fought District 4 Class A semifinal, 74-53 against rival Sullivan County.
Burkholder made two important blocks of what looked like sure layups which would have pulled Sullivan within two in the third quarter. Weeks-Shuler then grabbed three offensive rebounds late in the third and early in the fourth quarter and scored five quick points as Neumann was able to finally deliver the knockout blow against a valiant opponent which never backed down.
Davin Hill was marvelous and scored 30 points. Ditto for Hanief Clay who produced 18 points and 6 assists and 3 steals. But basketball is more than just scoring and what Burkholder and Weeks-Shuler provide is equally crucial.
“I think we have three of the best guards in the state so I just do the pick-up work while they’re busy scoring,” Burkholder said. “I box out, do my job and do those small little things that matter because you can’t win without them.”
Neumann may not have won without Burkholder or Weeks-Shuler making big impacts. That goes for Nasser Dymeck, who fueled the defense and Essex Taylor who shined off the bench, as well. Put all the contributions together and Neumann (16-3) is headed for its third straight district final. The defending champions will play North Penn-Liberty for the title Thursday at Williamsport.
“That made me feel good to know I could help my team out and provide for them and help them get the win,” Weeks-Shuler said. “As long as I’m getting rebounds and playing good defense I feel like I’m helping us get the win.”
Weeks-Shuler and Burkholder provided plenty of those qualities. Burkholder grabbed 11 rebounds, dealt 4 assists, blocked 4 shots and made 3 steals. Weeks-Shuler came off the bench and produced 5 points, 5 rebounds and a steal.
Sullivan (9-8) never flinched after Neumann built a quick 19-4 first-quarter lead. The Griffins cut it to five by halftime and consecutive 3-pointers from Alex Schweitzer and Trace Neary made it 44-40 three minutes into the third quarter. It looked like the Griffins would make it a two-point game on the following possession, but Burkholder made two straight clutch blocks and snuffed out those opportunities. The second block led to a layup on the other end and Neumann became re-energized.
“Usually when we have a big block in the game no matter who it is, whether it’s our biggest guy or our smallest guys, it always hypes the team up,” Burkholder said. “We try to keep the same momentum the whole game so we always play aggressive under the basket.”
“Keon has grown so much in the last two weeks. He understands his role. Yes, he would like to score 15 points per game but he’s probably our fourth or fifth option and he’s OK with that and he’s playing with a lot of energy,” Neumann coach Jamie Spencer said. “His leadership has been great, he’s playing defense and he’s not fouling like he was at the beginning of the year. He’s just playing solid.”
So is Weeks-Shuler.
The junior forward kept Neumann going strong following Burkholder’s key blocks with some super hustle plays. On consecutive possessions, Weeks-Shuler pulled down offensive rebounds, then scored off them. His second putback produced a 3-point play as Neumann went ahead, 55-45. Sullivan never stopped competing hard but Neumann maintained that double-digit lead the rest of the way.
“I usually don’t score much so when I score the team really gets hyped,” Weeks-Shuler said. “I think that helped give us a spark and helped us get more hyped than we had been.”
“He was a difference-maker,” Spencer said. “He gave us a big lift.”
Neumann needed those boosts against a Sullivan team which enhanced its reputation as one of the district’s best small-school programs Saturday and throughout the season. The Griffins were down 15 just six minutes into the game, but never panicked. They scored the quarter’s final nine points and were within three late in the first half before trailing, 37-32 at halftime.
The Griffins executed well on both ends following Neumann’s blistering start and received strong contributions from Neary, Schweitzer and fellow senior Jalen Thomas.
“When they jumped out to the early lead I’m sure a lot of people were thinking, ‘mercy-rule time and those boys from Sullivan County are going to get run out of the gym,’ so I’m super proud of the effort and belief they showed that we could get back in the game,” Sullivan coach Glenn Vaughan said. “My team has a lot of heart. In no way did I think we were going to get out of the gym even though it was 19-4. I knew we would battle back.”
Thomas and Neary both scored 17 points and Thomas shined in his final game, adding 6 assists, 4 rebounds and 4 steals. Thomas assisted Schweitzer and Neary on the 3-pointers which made it a four-point game in the third quarter and also made it 33-30 late in the second quarter off an Owen Schweitzer assist.
The Griffins’ determination never wavered but Dymeck’s defense helped slow Sullivan in the fourth quarter. The Knights allowed just seven points and one field goal over the final eight minutes. Still, Sullivan came quite a long way this year, starting the year two weeks later than most teams and winning eight of its last 11 games before producing one more ferocious effort.
“My guys are just too tough to give up or let up and they kept battling the whole way,” Vaughan said. I’m very appreciative of their effort because they could have mailed it in and they didn’t.”
Neumann also overcame adversity with leading scorer David Hill sidelined for long stretches in foul trouble. Davion Hill produced his second straight strong playoff performance, adding 9 rebounds and 3 assists to his 30 points. He scored four straight points early in the fourth quarter, the second off a Burkholder assist. Clay found Taylor inside soon after and Neumann went up 17 as it started putting the finishing touches on its ninth playoff win in three years.
Taylor was outstanding off the bench, scoring 6 points, pulling down 6 rebounds, making 3 steals and adding a block.
“Every team needs an Essex Taylor because he shows up and gives 120 percent at every practice,” Spencer said. “He’s a leader and for him to contribute tonight was huge.”
This was the sixth time since 2012 Sullivan and Neumann have either met in the district semifinals or championship. They have combined for 18 state tournament appearances during that time and this has become one of the area’s best rivalries.
And Saturday’s game only added to the excitement.
“It’s always intense against Sullivan,” Burkholder said. “I’ve been here for three years and they bring it every game no matter who they have on the court. I always look forward to playing them.”
Jalen Thomas 6 4-7 17, Trace Neary 5 3-4 17, Alex Schweitzer 2 0-1 5, Riley King 0 0-0 0, Trey Higley 2 2-4 6, Bryon Fitzgerald 0 0-0 0, Gerhett Parrish 3 0-0 6, Owen Schweitzer 1 0-1 2. Totals 19 9-17 53.
David Hill 3 0-0 6, Davion Hill 12 4-5 30, Hanief Clay 6 4-4 18, Keon Burkholder 1 0-0 2, Naseer Dymeck 2 0-0 4, Naz Smith 0 0-2 0, JerVal Weeks-Shuler 2 1-1 5, Ryan McNamee 1 0-0 3, Essex Taylor 2 2-6 6. Totals 29 11-18 74.
Sullivan 13 19 14 7ä53
Neumann 19 18 22 15ä74
3-pointers: Sullivan 6 (Neary 4, Thomas, A. Schweitzer); Neumann 5 (Davion Hill 2, Clay 2, McNamee).
Records: Neumann 16-3. Sullivan 9-8.