JOHNSONBURG – The visiting Coudersport Falcons stuck around late in the third quarter Friday night before the Johnsonburg Rams whipped the visitors late in the game for a 54-37 win in the quarterfinal round of the District 9 Class A playoffs.
The Rams will now play Elk County Catholic on Tuesday; it will be the fourth meeting of the teams this season.
Johnsonburg, paced by a 17-point performance by sophomore Cameron Grumley, got off to a lackadaisical start and had difficulty shaking the Falcons until late in the game.
"Coudersport is a good team and we knew it wasn't going to be easy," said Johnsonburg head boys varsity basketball coach Bill Shuey. "They might not look deceiving or fast, but they're a very quick team and they penetrated our zone more than I would've thought.
"They worked the ball and were very patient, just a very disciplined team that shot the ball well."
The Rams had the early 13-6 lead after the first quarter as Coudy senior forward Tim McCusker kept the visitors in the game by scoring all six of his team's points in the first quarter, the latter being a long 2-point field goal at the buzzer.
The Rams continued to have difficulty containing McCusker as he came up with a steal on Johnsonburg's first possession of the second quarter and dusted it off for an easy layup to cut the deficit to 13-8.
After junior Mitchell Holmberg tossed in a layup off a Falcon turnover, McCusker came up with a huge 3-pointer to cut the Rams' lead to four points at 15-11.
"Our players knew that [McCusker] is their best player, he was the one making the baskets to start the game and you'd think that we'd keep him from getting the ball," coach Shuey said. "After breaking the zone, they'd kick it right back out to him and we'd watch him shoot.
"Had we stopped him early, maybe half the time, maybe we would've been coasting down the stretch."
After a miss on the other end, Coudersport senior guard Christopher Rigas strolled through the paint untouched for an easy layup near the 5-minute mark of the second quarter to trim the deficit to just two points.
A Johnsonburg timeout did nothing to stop the bleeding as nearly 45 seconds later, the lead belonged to the Falcons after a 3-pointer from senior forward Josh Gibson gave Coudy a 16-15 lead.
"We missed a lot of shots at the beginning of the game and our focus and concentration wasn't there but we were lucky to come away with a victory under those conditions," coach Shuey said. "Our players were out of position when trying to make layups and cutbacks, and we missed I don't know how many layups.
"There isn't a fix that you can throw up at all, their mental preparation just wasn't there."
The Rams, however, regrouped as sophomore Cole Peterson drilled a long jumper to retake the lead and Grumley later cruised in for a layup the give Johnsonburg a 3-point lead.
The Falcons fumbled away the ball on their next possession and Peterson dusted it off for an easy layup as the Rams took a 21-16 halftime lead.
"We started to pick up the intensity and got some steals down the stretch," coach Shuey said. "We stole the ball early on but we'd give it right back to them.
"That seems to be something that we end up doing more and more and I don't know why."
But the Rams were able to keep the Falcons at bay in the third quarter thanks to some timely scoring in the paint. Junior Frank Kocjancic got things rolling with a score under the basket for a 23-16 lead and senior Michael Shuey hit a layup on the team's next possession for a 9-point cushion.
After senior Kyle Sheldon missed two free throws, Grumley cashed in on his two tries for a 27-16 lead.
Despite another trey from Gibson, the Rams regrouped as Kocjancic completed a 3-point play after being fouled on a successful layup, giving Johnsonburg a 31-20 lead. But while looking for the last shot down the stretch of the third quarter, an ill-timed pass was intercepted by Rigas and he raced the length of the court for a layup to beat the buzzer.
The Falcons tried to continue to press the issue early in the fourth quarter and after a Shuey free throw and a Grumley layup for a 12-point lead, the Falcons nearly trimmed the lead to under 10 points.
Gibson was sent to the line after nailing a layup but missed the bonus shot with 7:05 remaining, leaving Johnsonburg with a 34-24 lead. After Grumley hit another layup, Gibson was fouled and hit both free throws to get the deficit back to 10 points.
The Falcons were unable to crawl any closer as Peterson slammed the door with a 3-pointer at the 6:28 mark for a 39-26 lead.
"We were able to pick it up and start to feel that we were a better team," coach Shuey said. "We kept Coudersport believing that they could beat us and that's a scary thing when you give teams that are good that opportunity."
Coudy junior guard John Michael Rigas was fouled three times down the stretch and walked away with a 4-for-6 showing, far better than the Rams' 13-for-24 performance from the line.
Grumley hit two free throws with 5:25 to go for a 41-28 lead before the Rams finally started hitting some passes down the stretch as junior Quinn Luhr scored four layups for eight points in a mere 77 seconds for a 49-30 lead. The quick baskets put Luhr in double figures with 10 points for the game.
Grumley would later complete a 3-point play after being fouled on a successful layup with 2:17 to play for a 52-30 advantage. McCusker's second 3-pointer of the night to give him 14 points was too little too late as Johnsonburg held on for a 54-37 lead.
With the quarterfinal round out of the way, the Rams now turn their attention to Elk County Catholic (15-10).
The Rams own three wins over the Crusaders, a 52-35 win Dec. 13, 2011 in Johnsonburg, a 40-37 win Dec. 29, 2011 in the Elk County Holiday Basketball Tournament, and a 58-36 thrashing Jan. 27 at ECC.
"This will be the fourth time and like every meeting with them, it'll be a good one," coach Shuey.