USC Stuns Mt. Lebanon, 54-51
Conwell leads second half shooting surge to knock off rival Blue Devils.
Ask any Upper St. Clair student-athlete what their goals are for an upcoming season and somewhere on each of their lists you will find the same three words: beat Mt. Lebanon.
The boys' basketball team made the trip just a few miles down Route 19 to Cochran Road Tuesday night and did just that, riding the outstanding shooting effort of junior forward Dakota Conwell, who scored 17 points in a 54-51 victory.
The Panthers (8-5) snapped a three-game losing streak to even their section record at 3-3.
Mt. Lebanon (12-2), the defending WPIAL champion, suffered their first section loss of the season. Senior center Paul Lang led the Blue Devils with 17.
"It's awesome," senior guard/forward Steve Limberiou said after the game. "Especially since we've been in such a down way with those three losses, but there's no words to describe how good it feels, really."
Conwell made five of his six 3-point attempts, including four in the second half. He credited his scoring outburst to assistant coach Gavin Williams, who stayed at the Upper St. Clair gym with him and junior point guard Mike Worthy after Saturday's practice to work on their shooting.
"We lost on Friday and we had three rough games in a row, and I was just mad about it," Conwell said. "We decided to stay after practice for two hours, shoot a lot and we got better."
"These guys wanted to stay behind and shoot," Williams said. "I told Dakota after we were done to make sure he spells my name right when they interview him after he hits the big shot."
Conwell, who is also the starting quarterback on the football team, said this game was a lot more personal for him.
"I just thought about this game," he said. "They beat us in football, they beat us in everything and it just meant the world to me to beat them."
Derik Young hit two from behind the arc to finish with eight points as he and Conwell combined for all of the Panthers' 3-point field goals, shooting 7-for-10 as a team. Worthy scored 11, converting seven of 13 Panther free throws on 19 attempts.
Limberiou scored 11 with eight rebounds and four assists, but labored against a tough Blue Devils defense that limited him and fellow senior Garrett DelRe. DelRe finished with only five points and two rebounds.
"We've really come to expect that," Limberiou said of other teams who create game plans against the Panthers' two leading scorers. "But the whole team stepped up. Dakota had a huge night, Derik hit a lot of shots, so that was huge."
"Coach has been preaching all year we've got to make big shots in big games, so me and Derik decided to step up and do it," Conwell said.
"I didn't think I would get that many opportunities, but over the weekend I kept thinking, 'What's it going to take for our team to win?' I knew every time I touched the ball there was one little thing to help the team win the game, so once [the shots] started falling, I just let it keep going."
Upper St. Clair trailed from the opening quarter and didn't take the lead until Conwell knocked down his last 3-pointer with 4:03 remaining in the fourth quarter to make it 47-46. After a layup by Worthy gave them a three-point lead, Conwell then made a heads-up play by drawing a jump ball to give the Panthers possession.
DelRe used the opportunity to hit two free throws right in front of the Mt. Lebanon student section to make it 51-46 with 53 seconds left. Sophomore guard Tyler Roth made one of his four 3-pointers of the game on the ensuing possession to keep the Blue Devils within two.
Mt. Lebanon regained possession with 35 seconds left and a chance to tie the game, but junior point guard Luke Hagy called timeout when the Blue Devils had none remaining. They were charged with a technical foul, and Limberiou hit both of them for a 53-49 lead.
"I've been waiting to do something like that for a long time, so it feels good," Limberiou said.
Hagy made one final attempt with 15 seconds left to keep Mt. Lebanon in it, but his shot missed and junior guard Ben Dabat pulled in the rebound to seal the victory for Upper St. Clair. Hagy, who scored five points in the first quarter, never scored again the rest of the game.
"We just figured we have to play hard," Limberiou said. "We got some rhythm on offense and we really just got after them on defense at the end."
The players and coaching staff agreed that the rivalry and atmosphere in the game made the difference in the team's effort.
"We told them at halftime, 'We can win this game,'" Williams said. "I think they just realized they can win every game they play if they put up this kind of effort."
The celebration will not last for too long. The regular season finale between these two teams takes place at Upper St. Clair on February 11, and the Panthers expect that meeting to be just as tough.
"They're going to be angry," Conwell said. "Our students rushed the floor, so they're going to want to do the same thing to us. But we'll be ready."