Defense wipes out deficit in CL semi
Before stepping on the court for the third time in five seasons to compete for a Colonial League championship, Salisbury needed to get by No. 6 seed Wilson in the semifinals.
Much like their regular season meeting with the Warriors, one in which the Falcons trailed by double digits at halftime, Salisbury once again stared at a nine-point deficit as the halftime horn sounded.
It wasn't necessarily the Falcons' poor defense that helped Wilson to a 32-23 lead. The Warriors had hit seven three-pointers over the first 16 minutes, including four from guard Jeff Cooper. The Warriors hit on five two-point field goals compared to the seven from long range.
With an upset alert floating around Catasauqua High School's Gymnasium last Wednesday night, head coach Jason Weaver and the Falcons knew what it took to down the Warriors once again. It was a high level of defensive intensity over the second half that was the key. Two quarters of that intensity wasn't quite enough, but after a five-point advantage in the overtime session, the Falcons found themselves back in the Colonial League championship game with a 69-64 victory over the Warriors.
A high level of intensity and aggressive, suffocating defense has been a staple of Falcon teams led by Weaver over his career. Last Wednesday's second half against Wilson was a prime example of that.
"I think it was just really our intensity," Weaver said. "It wasn't anything that we changed other than picking up our intensity a little bit. I give the credit to those guys.
"I didn't think they were going to keep shooting threes like that. It was a carbon copy of our game against Wilson during the regular season. It's basically the same game, and we got back in that game by playing better defense. That was sort of the mindset. We had been in this situation before against them, we had a solution of what we did, and I think the guys bought into it."
Wilson actually grew its lead to 42-30 late in the third period after Phil Pierfy's three-point play, but the intensity was there from the opening whistle of the second half.
It eventually paid off.
The shots that Wilson was hitting in the first half suddenly weren't falling. The second-chance opportunities created by Warrior offensive rebounds were no longer a concern.
By the midway point of the fourth period, the Falcons cut the Warriors' lead to a one-possession game. Nearly two minutes later, that hustle and intensity tied the game up in one key possession.
After Tevon Weber blocked Pierfy's shot that looked to give the Warriors a 50-45 lead, Brendan Reichenbach secured the rebound and threw an outlet pass up the court to Dasheen Reid, who scored a team-high 25 points. A few dribbles later and Reid's layup in transition made it a one-point game with 2:07 remaining. His free throw attempt for a three-point play went off the iron, but a Wilson foul on the box out sent Bryce Fairclough to the line for a one-and-one opportunity. He hit the first to tie the game at 48.
"Defensively, we put Weber on Phil, and I think that made a difference," Weaver said. "He's a little bit bigger. Bryce obviously worked hard, but he's giving up a lot of height to him. I think he was able to force him out a little bit into some tougher shots. We switched Reid onto Cooper as well, which I think made a difference. Our defense got us back into it."
Weber's scoop shot with 26 seconds to play forced overtime at 50 all.
In the four-minute overtime session, the Falcons jumped out to a 57-53 lead after a Reid 3-pointer, and they increased that to 59-53 on two Dylan Belletiere free throws. Cooper's three-pointer made it a one-point deficit for Wilson with 25 seconds to play, but the Falcons pulled away down the stretch with a deep outlet pass to Reid that led to a layup and crucial free throw shooting.
Wilson's shooting numbers in the third quarter weren't bad. The Warriors hit four of nine shots in the period. But the fourth quarter was a different story. The Warriors were held to six points in the fourth (two in the first five minutes) and shot just 2-for-7 in crunch time.
Pierfy (31 points) and Cooper (20) combined for 51 of their team's 64 points.
"I really give credit to these kids," Weaver said. "We were down and we could've easily packed it in and said we'll get ready for next week and probably play Wilson again. I really give them a lot of credit that they kept battling."