LAPORTE - Jordan Cole smiled, Richard Allen pumped his fist and happy St. John Neumann teammates briefly celebrated at midcourt in a gym that once served as a house of horrors.
The Knights kept the celebration brief because they know there is more work to do, starting Friday against Bloomsburg. But as regular-season games go this victory was huge. This was slaying an old nemesis. This was about redemption.
Alize Johnson hit five straight first-half 3-pointers and scored a career-high 30 points while all six Knights played well as Neumann defeated Sullivan County, 67-56 Tuesday on its home court and handed the Griffins their first home loss in two years. Neumann (9-0, 4-0 HAC-III) remained in a two-way tie for first in the league and avenged three losses to Sullivan last year, including in the district final and a 25-point romp on this same floor.
"It's really big. We've been wanting to get coach this win forever," Johnson said." They beat us three times last year and we weren't letting it happen again this year."
"I kept watching replays of the district championship and Sharif (Welton) doing his thing so it meant a lot to come up here and win," said Neumann point guard Richard Allen, who ran he floor well and played outstanding defense on Sullivan sharpshooter Zach Meyer, holding him without a 3-pointer. "We enjoyed it. It was a lot of fun."
Neumann might not play in a more raucous atmosphere all season. By the time the JV game tipped, the stands were nearly full and fans roared before the game, especially during the old-school, Chicago Bulls like Sullivan introductions. The Knights just stared straight ahead unfazed, blocking it all out.
Johnson buried four first-quarter 3-pointers and Neumann built a 16-12 lead it never relinquished. The junior center hit his fifth 3-pointer early in the second and his sixth late in the quarter ended a Sullivan run and gave Neumann an eight-point halftime lead.
Johnson finished with 30 points, 13 rebounds, three assists and two blocks. His teammates kept getting him the ball and when Sullivan focused on stopping Johnson outside, those same players picked it up and kept making big plays.
"I felt good. My team had confidence in me so I kept shooting the ball," Johnson said. "Once I got on a run I didn't stop. I have been practicing them and today they were falling."
"Alize was amazing and they all did their part. Everybody really played well," Neumann coach Paul Petcavage said. "They prepared well. I think they enjoy the noise. I think that gets them a little more pumped up than some of the other venues they play in."
Sullivan (9-1, 2-1) lost its first District 4 game since early last February. Neumann scored the third-quarter's first six points and went up by 14. Every time Sullivan threatened after that, the Knights answered and Sullivan never pulled closer than seven again.
"We were trailing the whole game and I feel like for some reason we had trouble handling adversity," Sullivan coach Glenn Vaughan said. "Maybe it's because we haven't faced adversity all season but we have four seniors and a junior starting who've been through district playoffs, district championship games and those things and we let things fluster us tonight."
Allen and Cole were sensational in Neumann's backcourt, facilitating the offense, running the floor and playing stellar defense. Allen contained Meyer while Cole held Sullivan leading scorer Kelby Mullen (16 points per game) to just six. Cole also nearly had a triple double, scoring nine points, dealing 10 assists and grabbing nine rebounds.
A Conner Wylie 3-point play cut the deficit to 55-48 with 3:24 remaining but Johnson answered with a driving basket and Vidal then threw a pretty pass to Reid for a layup. Reid set up that sequence with a steal near midcourt. A Cole assist to Johnson created a 3-point play that all but sealed the win, putting Neumann up 62-50 with 1:41 remaining.
"I was a little surprised we got it going," Allen said. "They have all these big bodies and I was like, 'these guys are huge,' but we got the job done."
Wylie was sensational, scoring a career-high 23 points and adding nine rebounds and three steals. The junior made 10 of 13 shots and scored 16 second-half points while trying to spark a comeback.
"He has tons of talent," Vaughan said. "For him it's just about having a killer instinct and being assertive. He's got all the tools to be one of the best big men in the area."
Alize Johnson 11 4-5 30, Tyree Vidal 4 1-2 9, Jordan Cole 3 2-3 9, Richard Allen 4 2-3 11, Noah Beiter 1 0-0 2, Ryan Reid 3 0-0 6. Totals 26 9-13 67.
Kelby Mullen 3 0-0 6, Conner Wylie 10 3-4 23, Derek Wilkins 5 2-2 13, Zach Meyer 1 3-3 5, Lucas Hatton 0 0-0 0, Adam Szklanka 2 1-2 6, Bob Polcrack 1 0-0 3. Totals 22 9-11 56.
Neumann16 21 12 18-67
Sullivan12 17 10 17-56
3-pointers: Neumann 9 (Johnson 7, Cole, Allen); Sullivan 3 (Wilkins, Szklanka, Polcrack).
Records: Neumann 9-0, 4-0 HAC-III. Sullivan 9-1, 2-1.
JV Score: Sullivan 57-38