A team with a 9-15 record doesn't necessarily scream state-caliber.
However, with a win against VisionQuest in the District 10 Class A Consolation Game at 7 p.m. Friday at Oil City High School, the Eisenhower boys basketball team will be just that.
After opening the D-10 Class A playoffs with a 65-47 victory over Commodore Perry on February 22, the Knights suffered a setback on Tuesday with a 52-34 loss to Region 3 rival Cochranton. Just three days removed from that loss, coach Dave Allenson's Knights must regroup in a hurry with their season on the line.
Times Observer photo by Allen Seybert
Running the show
Eisenhower point guard Carter Farrell, left, dribbles around Cochranton’s Logan Herzberger during the first half of a District 10 Class A semifinal playoff game Tuesday at Edinboro University’s McComb Fieldhouse. The Knights were defeated, 52-34, but advance to Friday’s D-10 Class A consolation game against VisionQuest at 7 p.m. Friday at Oil City High School. The winner of that game qualifies for the PIAA Class A playoffs.
Eisenhower entered Tuesday's game knowing that, no matter the outcome, it would live to play another day. Friday night offers no such comfort. How the Knights respond to that remains to be seen.
"I don't know that I've seen a sense of urgency across the board," said Allenson. "In some of the kids maybe. It's going to be one of those cases where we take the court and hopefully play like our season is on the line - because it is."
The Knights have relied heavily on the offensive talents of Ryan Williams and Aaron Lundmark during their two postseason outings. Lundmark led the team in scoring during the regular season and is averaging 13 points per game (ppg) in the postseason. Williams is also averaging 13 ppg, but 20 of those came in the victory over Commodore Perry with just six coming in the loss to Cochranton.
While the team has shown flashes of strong play during its 1-1 postseason run, Allenson knows his team needs to play more consistent basketball.
"That's been a bugaboo all season," said Allenson. "I don't know that we've had many games where we've played well from start to finish. Whenever you do that, you leave the door open to let teams hang around or pull away from you."
Another unknown heading into Friday's do-or-die game is the status of regular season second leading scorer Colin Shine. After scoring seven points in the playoff opener, Shine missed all of the first half against Cochranton for undisclosed reasons before entering midway through the third quarter. Late in the game, Shine suffered an apparent shoulder injury and did not return.
Allenson said Thursday that Shine will be available for the game.
Other strong contributors during the postseason have been big men Jarrett Johnson (8 ppg) and Nathan O'Brien (6.5 ppg). After Tuesday's loss, Allenson said O'Brien played "one of his best games (all season)."
Allenson added that his inside defenders will have to come up big again Friday when the Knights entertain the Golden Eagles - a school that is not exactly unfamiliar to Eisenhower.
A year ago, these same teams met in the D-10 Class A quarterfinals. That night, it was VisionQuest that came out on the winning end of a 71-50 score, ending the Knights' season. An Ike win Friday would offer a bit of redemption and secure the team's first state playoff berth since 2009-10 under head coach Steve Norris.
But it won't be easy.
"They are quick and when they get out and pressure the ball they can be dangerous," said Allenson. "I didn't see the beginning of their playoff game with Rocky Grove, but they jumped out to a 17-0 lead for a reason. If we're not paying attention with the basketball, they have the ability to pick your pocket. We have to keep our heads in the game."
The Golden Eagles (9-15) feature a bevy of options on offense. However, the straw that stirs the drink is undoubtedly 6'5 senior forward Demetrius McLennan. McLennan appeared in 18 games and scored 325 points - an average of 18.1 ppg. His season featured a high game of 33 points and he also recorded several "20-20" games (20 points, 20 rebounds).
"He hangs around the basket and his teammates do a nice job of getting the ball on the hoop, making it possible for him to get offensive rebounds and putbacks," said Allenson. "He's a strong, athletic kid. He is also a skilled shot blocker so you need to be aware of him both offensively and defensively."
The Golden Eagles next best options offensively are 5'8 guard Izeem Hunter and 6'1 forward Jaleel Adams. Hunter averaged 11.8 ppg in 20 games this season with Adams averaging just over eight points an outing in 18 games.
VisionQuest made a run to the PIAA Class A Quarterfinals a season ago, but lost every member of that roster in the offseason. The club opened the postseason with a 54-48 victory over Rocky Grove, nearly blowing an early 24-1 lead. On Tuesday, the Golden Eagles fell to D-10 top seed Kennedy Catholic, 68-46.
The winner of Friday's game plays the District 9 champion (either Ridgway or Johnsonburg) in the opening round of the PIAA Class A playoffs on Tuesday while the loser is eliminated.