JOHNSONBURG – Despite a late rally from Smethport in the closing minutes of the game, unblemished Johnsonburg (4-0) closed out the visiting Hubbers, 55-49, and now shift their attention to next weekend's Elk County Holiday Basketball Tournament.
Nursing a 3-point lead down the stretch, Clay Schuler came up with a timely steal off Johnsonburg senior Kyle Sheldon and hit a layup on the other end to cut the deficit to one point at 48-47.
Johnsonburg sophomore Cole Peterson was able to burn half a minute off the clock before being fouled; Peterson converted both tries to give the Rams a 3-point cushion again, only to see it disappear again as Zach Smith drained a short jumper inside the paint with 53 seconds to go to cut the lead to 50-49.
Sheldon was fouled with 40 seconds on the clock and missed his try but the ball was rebounded by fellow senior Michael Shuey, who failed to convert the offensive outback. With the ball still in the air, Johnsonburg sophomore Cameron Grumley grabbed a timely offensive board and scored for a 52-49 advantage with 31 seconds on the clock.
As the defense shifted on the ensuing possession, Johnsonburg junior Quinn Luhr came up with a key steal with 15 seconds to go and Peterson was fouled on the other end.
After converting one of his two attempts, Peterson came up with a steal under the basket and put in an easy layup with four seconds on the clock for a 55-49 win.
"With winning a close game, I saw some maturity late in the fourth quarter by some of our sophomores, and definitely some of our juniors," said Johnsonburg head boys basketball coach Bill Shuey. "I thought we took some chances in the fourth quarter that we didn't need to take when we had a 5-point lead and that allowed Smethport to tie it up.
"We did make some plays down the stretch offensively and defensively that gave us the win."
The Rams built an early 20-11 lead after the first quarter and continued to distance themselves in the second as Grumley and junior Frank Kocjancic combined for six points in 80 seconds to take a 31-13 lead with 2:42 remaining in the first half.
Smethport however would get consecutive 3-pointers from Schuler at the 2:19 mark and Kevin Lord with eight seconds remaining to cut the lead to 31-19 and set the tone for the second half.
The Hubbers stormed out in the third quarter as Lord scored back-to-back layups followed by a Schuler score with 6:31 on the clock to cut the lead to 31-25.
Shuey was later fouled but couldn't convert and Schuler visited the line and came away with another point to cut the lead to 31-26.
After a Kocjancic layup at the 5:14 mark, Zach Smith was on the mark with two free throws and later scored after two offensive rebounds to cut the lead to 33-30. A missed opportunity on the other end turned the ball over and Lord found himself under the basket for an easy layup at the midway point of the third quarter with the Hubbers down by one point.
A Peterson jumper temporarily righted the ship before a Smith trey tied it up at 35-all.
Kocjancic and Smith traded layups to 37-37 before Kocjancic again came through with 1:14 to go in the third quarter for a 39-37 lead.
After a turnover, Sheldon accepted an incredible pass from Grumley and put it away for a 4-point lead.
After Smethport's Nick Duffy came up empty-handed at the charity stripe, Sheldon cleaned up shop from beyond the arc for a 44-37 lead going into the fourth quarter.
"After the half, [Smethport] came out and out-hustled us to the ball, and they pounded the boards, and got a lot of offensive rebounds," coach Shuey said. "That was definitely a wakeup call there as [Smethport] came out and played very well. As far as learning goes, hopefully we take some of the things that Smethport did as far as discipline goes.
"I thought Smethport hustled to every ball but we had a couple defensive plays that sparked us midway through the fourth quarter. Everyone was out there hustling and I think we learned that we have to play all four quarters."
Sheldon opened up the fourth quarter with a layup for a 9-point lead before Smethport mounted its final comeback bid. A Duffy layup cut the lead and Lord was fouled on three consecutive possessions, one beyond the 3-point line, but came away with a 2-for-6 showing, good enough for a 46-41 deficit.
Johnsonburg junior Mitchell Holmberg was the guilty party on the last foul and was ousted with five fouls on the scoresheet.
The Rams were unable to cash in offensively until Kocjancic hit a layup and was fouled for a 48-41 lead. He missed the shot and Lord came up big on the other end with a long-range shot just inside the arc for a 5-point deficit; Duffy was fouled on the subsequent possession and went to the line and sank both shots to cut the lead to 48-45.
Schuler was fouled with 2:16 to go and missed his try but scored a layup off a steal from Sheldon with 1:33 remaining to cut the lead to 48-47 before the Rams held them off for the win.
"This is the first close game that we've had and we knew going into this game that it would be close," coach Shuey said. "[Zach] Smith and [Kevin] Lord are two excellent players.
"It was a battle out there and Smethport has a very disciplined team, and a very good shooting team."