SMETHPORT — Tuesday night’s 50-45 thrilling road win for Elk County Catholic over Smethport may have gone down as a loss for the Hubbers, but head coach Jay Acker said it was one of the best performances the team has had in five years.
Prior to Tuesday’s loss, the Hubbers suffered a 49-35 loss to Cameron County in a game in which Smethport trailed by just four at halftime. And after the narrow loss to ECC, Acker said the defeat could be a confidence booster for his team.
Cameron County and ECC played each other during last year’s District 9 Class A title game.
“I thought our guys played really disciplined basketball, especially on the defensive end,” Smethport head coach Jay Acker said. “When you go against ECC, you know that they’re going to run good sets and you know they’re going to be very patient on offense and I thought we handled that pretty well.”
Smethport countered that strong defensive effort with a patient offense themselves, which involved improved shot selection, but the Hubbers’ defense proved to be one of the biggest differences throughout the game, making ECC uncomfortable on offense for most of the night.
“They never lost contact, even when we made a run, they hung in there just like they did against Cameron County last night,” ECC head coach Aaron Straub said of Smethport after the game. “They made us feel uncomfortable, they really did. That’s a bad combination when you feel uncomfortable and you don’t get a lot of stops.”
The Hubbers got off to a quick 5-0 start with a three-pointer from Alex Ognen and basket from Richie McDowell, but the Crusaders would go on to outscore Smethport, 10-1, to take a 10-6 lead after the first quarter.
A foul-heavy second quarter followed that saw both teams reach the double bonus and like its game against Cameron County, Smethport trailed by single digits at 25-21.
Smethport then climbed to within a point of ECC thanks to baskets from Ognen and Layne Shall. The duo were the team’s top two scorers Tuesday night with Shall tallying 16 points and Ognen recording 15.
However, a 6-0 run from the Crusaders (3-0) would follow, which put the reigning D9 champs ahead by a score of 32-25 in the third. But the Hubbers kept battling and got some extra momentum heading into the fourth thanks to back-to-back threes from Brandon Higley and Shall, which put the score at 32-31 in favor of ECC.
“They played harder than we did,” Straub said. “Offensively, we weren’t in a hurry when we needed to be in a hurry with our slow to fast cuts, with our floor spacing, when we shouldn’t have been in a hurry like when we threw it inside, we got sped up. We didn’t find the square and we didn’t finish.
“We just did not stay in a defensive stance, we did not jump to the ball the way we needed to and they wore us down a little bit with what they were doing offensively.”
After another 6-0 run from ECC that extended its lead to 38-33, it looked as if the Crusaders would take control the rest of the way, but Smethport would again knock at the door.
With ECC leading by a score of 46-39, Shall nailed another three-pointer to cut the Crusaders’ lead down to four points, and after a pair of free throws from Charlie Breindl that put the ECC lead to six points, Shall banked in another shot from behind the arc with 7.2 seconds left to put the Hubbers to within three points.
But another pair of made free throws from Breindl with six seconds left sealed the game for the Crusaders and kept ECC’s undefeated record intact.
Despite Smethport’s offensive output against ECC’s pressure and defensive play and communication, one of the biggest differences in the game was free throws. The Hubbers (1-2) finished 12-of-23 at the line to ECC’s 27-of-37. \Breindl led the Crusaders at line where he scored all 14 of his points. He finished 14-of-16 at the line.
“The thing that really hurt us was our free throws,” Acker said. “Our guys hung in there the whole time. We scrapped, we hit a couple desperation threes to bring it in and it could’ve gone our way, but (ECC) made their free throws at the end.”
Next up for ECC is a road matchup against Johnsonburg on Friday, a team that will play its first game Thursday at Coudersport.
“We’re looking forward to the opportunity to play them,” Straub said. “It’ll be a really good test for us. They have a lot of guys back and they have a good program.”
Although Smethport has two suffered two straight losses, battling back-and-forth with two solid programs in Cameron County and Elk Catholic was a measuring stick and assured the Hubbers that they can play with anyone. Smethport visits Kane on Monday.
“We’re right there,” Acker said. “We’re at the top of our game and I feel like we can beat anybody. If we can be right here, a couple points from (ECC), I think we’re in pretty good shape.”
Elk Catholic (50)
Charlie Breindl 0 14-16 14, Mark Kraus 4 3-6 11, Mason McAllister 5 3-4 13, DePrator 1 2-4 4, Jansen 0 3-5 3, Straub 1 2-2 5. Totals: 11 27-37 50
Layne Shall 6 1-3 16, Alex Ognen 5 4-7 15, McDowell 1 2-6 4, Howes 0 1-2 1, Higley 2 0-0 5, Alfieri 0 4-5 4. Totals: 14 12-23 45
Elk Catholic 10 25 32 50
Smethport 6 21 31 45
Three-point goals: ECC 1 (Mark Kraus 1), Smethport 5 (Layne Shall 3, Alex Ognen 1, Brandon Higley 1); Total fouls: ECC 17, Smethport 25; fouled out: Chase Burdick (Smethport)
JV: ECC won 56-24