JOHNSONBURG – The Rams (9-2) rebounded Tuesday with a 54-31 win over struggling Brockway (4-8) to right the ship at the midway point of the regular season.
Backed by a 17-point outburst from sophomore guard Cole Peterson, the Rams overcome a brief sluggish start to outlast the Rovers while relying on a stifling defense in the second half to put the game away.
"We weren't together in the first half and offensively, everyone was kind of doing their own thing but we executed better in the second half," said Johnsonburg head varsity boys basketball coach Bill Shuey following his team's ninth win of the season. "We played team ball."
The Rams were in an 8-4 hole early in the first quarter as Brockway senior guard Fabio Fortunato accounted for six of his team's eight points to open up the game. The lead wouldn't last as the Rams closed out with a 6-0 run to take a 10-8 lead after the first quarter. A layup from Johnsonburg sophomore guard Cameron Grumley cut the lead to two points before a shot from junior forward Quinn Luhr tied the game at 8-all. Peterson would later hit a jumper in the paint for a 10-8 lead.
Johnsonburg continued to build on their lead in the second quarter, outscoring Brockway 13-9 en route to a 6-point halftime lead.
Grumley and Luhr hit back-to-back shots for a 14-8 advantage before Brockway senior forward Ray Serafini tried to stop the bleeding with a layup with 6:48 in the second half. Grumley, who followed Peterson with a 13-point performance, drained a trey on the team's first attempt of the night for a 19-10 lead with 5:04 before halftime; Kocjancic would follow with a short jumper off the glass for an 11-point lead, the Rams' first double-digit margin of the night.
A Kocjancic layup with 3:05 was sandwiched between a short jumper and 3-pointer from Brockway senior Levi Miller to cut the lead to 23-15. The Rovers would get a layup from senior guard Jake Rogos with six seconds left on the clock to cut the halftime deficit to six points.
"Our players seemed to be very loose at the beginning of the game, maybe a little bit too loose, and I had to remind them that Brockway doesn't know that they're going to lose," coach Shuey said. "We had a lengthy discussion at halftime and we woke up. Coming off a loss, it's important to come back and play well against a quality team."
The Rams were coming off a 64-54 overtime loss at Brookville (9-2) after leading the game in the waning minutes.
"We talked about [feeling the ill effects] of Monday's [overtime loss at Brookville] at halftime but that's over, we're here now and Brockway is here to play us, so we have to be better," coach Shuey said. "We stepped it up in the second half and I was pleased with the way they played as a unit."
With just the six-point cushion to start the third quarter, the Rams doubled Brockway's offensive output, 14-7, to take control.
Peterson and senior forward Michael Shuey got the ball rolling early with consecutive scores to restore the double-digit lead at 27-17 before a layup from Brockway senior Kyle Braun cut the lead to eight. Grumley and Braun would late trade scores to 29-21 before a Peterson layup gave Johnsonburg a 31-21 advantage.
The Rovers were missing desperation 3-pointers all night but finally nailed one with 2:53 to go in the third quarter as junior guard Clay Anderson hit a bomb to cut the lead to just seven points. The celebration was short-lived, however, as Johnsonburg scored six points to close out the third quarter, then ran off a 17-0 run to start the fourth quarter to slam the door.
"Our defense stepped it up and we controlled the boards a lot better in the second half versus the first half," coach Shuey said. "We took the breaks when they were presented to us and Brockway is a good team, a good shooting team, and we knew we at least at to contest every shot. I thought our team hustled a lot more in the second half as opposed to the first half."
Kocjancic and Peterson hit short shots early in the fourth quarter to up the lead to 41-24 before Peterson turned a 3-point play after being fouled on a successful layup with 5:16 remaining in the game. Peterson's next layup 30 seconds later capped his 17-point night to pace all scorers.
Luhr dumped in a layup at the 4:24 mark before Grumley came up with a steal and easy layup for a 50-24 lead; Luhr found the hoop again with a long jumper just inside the 3-point line to give Johnsonburg a 52-24 advantage. Freshman guard Calvin Moore came off the bench and gave the Rams their biggest lead of the night after his layup with 1:02 on the clock put Johnsonburg up, 54-24.
Brockway senior Gabe Bembenic, one of 11 Rovers to get into the scoring column, found a 3-pointer with 48 seconds remaining to cut the lead to 54-27. Senior forward Christian Barraclough later converted two free throws to cut the deficit to 25 points and junior forward Kyle Titler put in a layup with seven second to play as the Rams took the game, 54-31.
"You could see with our passing that we were all on the same page and it didn't matter which five [players] were out there, it seemed like they were together and there were some pretty things to watch," coach Shuey said.
Johnsonburg will seek win No. 10 Friday as they travel to Ridgway (10-0) this Friday; the Rams will be trying to avenge an earlier loss this season to the Elkers. The two teams met in the finals of the Elk County Holiday Basketball Tournament as Ridgway took the crown Dec. 30, 2011, in a 45-38 win over Johnsonburg.