The Wyoming Area boys basketball team never did complete its search for a viable offensive approach — or a first victory.
The under-sized Warriors attacked the offensive glass aggressively and applied full-court pressure with their defense to throw two impressive runs at visiting Western Wayne in Monday night’s District 2 Class AAA play-in game.
Wyoming Area wrapped up a winless 2013-14 season when Western Wayne used a late burst to break away from a tie in the final 4:27 of a 58-48 victory.
“Our kids battled,” Wyoming Area coach Alex Brogna said. “They played hard the entire game.
“We got down a little bit, made a nice run on them, had a lead at one point and made a couple mental mistakes. We had a couple plays on our press where we had turnovers and we just couldn’t capitalize.”
The same problems that plagued the young Wyoming Area team throughout the season played a major role in falling short in the playoff game under the district’s open tournament format.
Lacking enough scoring threats, the Warriors settled for too many difficult shots and failed to convert too many easy ones. Wyoming Area finished 1-for-17 on 3-point attempts and missed several lay-ups, including three in the final 28 seconds of the third quarter with the game tied.
“One of the areas that we struggled with tonight is that we settled too many times from the outside,” Brogna said. “I thought we had the ability to get to the basket. We had them in foul trouble at some point in the fourth quarter.
“… We’ve got to attack the rim.”
Wyoming Area forced 19 Western Wayne turnovers, including seven while outscoring the Wildcats, 22-14, in the third quarter.
Western Wayne broke down the press and beat Wyoming Area down the floor in the decisive 14-2 run that overcame the last deficit and gave the Wildcats a 56-46 lead with 1:18 left.
Derek Gillis, who finished with 15 points and had five assists, scored the last four points on two breakaways after assisting another basket in transition, all in a span of 34 seconds.
“I always tell the kids, ‘if the other team’s pressing, that’s a good opportunity for us to score, but be smart with it’,” Western Wayne coach Darren Thorpe said. “They got a lot of steals out of the press, too. They hurt us with it.”
The Warriors had a chance to do more damage in their third-quarter surge. In addition to the five steals they came up with, they twice stepped in front of passes in the backcourt, only to fumble the ball out-of-bounds.
The late 12-2 run provided the winning margin, but Wyoming Area’s bigger problems probably were in the inability to pile up points when it was otherwise controlling action.
“We’ve had spurts, but our inside game, for the most part this season, has been nonexistent,” Brogna said. “When teams don’t respect you on the inside, it’s very easy for them to defend the outside.
“Jeremy (Zezza) is a really good scorer and teams know that and cater their defenses to him. We’ve yet to have the three kids in double figures or at least five kids getting 8 or 9 points, something along those lines. “
After an early stretch when the teams combined to miss 12 straight shots while tied 2-2 for more than three minutes, the Wildcats and Warriors went after each other while each searching for their only win following an 0-22 regular season.
While two girls teams opted out of the district tournament, every boys teams, including the two winless squads, decided to take advantage of the open tournament policy.
“I think it’s an automatic to get in and give it a shot,” Thorpe said.
Brogna said he only heard rumbles from a few who thought the Warriors should not play.
“That never crossed my mind,” he said. “They’re young. Any experience they get is going to help them in the future.
“I would never give up the game.”
With freshmen Anthony Nardell and Ryan Shuleski joining three juniors in the starting lineup and freshman Dante DeLuca serving as sixth man, Wyoming Area stormed out to a 10-2 lead with 1:07 left in the first quarter. Evan Musto scored four points in the eight-point streak.
Western Wayne answered with a 12-2, second-quarter run to take a 21-16 lead on the way to a 26-18 halftime advantage.
Zezza brought Wyoming Area back with 13 points, five rebounds, two steals and an assist in the third quarter. He finished with 19 points, 10 rebounds, four steals, three assists and two blocked shots.
Musto finished with 10 points and eight rebounds, including five on the offensive end. One of those rebounds turned into the basket for the last lead, 44-42, with 6:45 left.
“Overall, I’m not happy with our season as far as losses, but in the grand scheme of things when the kids play hard – that’s what we’re trying to instill in them – that if you play hard and you put forth the intensity, good things will start to happen,” said Brogna, who is hopeful that some of his young players will work on their shooting skills on their own in the offseason. “It’s been a tough season for them to come every single night at practice and every game and maintain a positive effort for us.
“From that standpoint I was pleased. None of the kids quit on us. They came every day and they worked hard to get themselves better.”