As Alize Johnson approached the foul line, injured senior Tyree Vidal sat on the bench, one leg down, the other resting upwards. It was Senior Night and Vidal experienced a downer when he sprained his ankle in the second quarter.
Johnson made sure his teammate still had something to smile about afterward.
Johnson hit both ends of a 1-and-1 with 15 seconds remaining then blocked a shot seconds later, helping St. John Neumann clinch a hard-fought 59-54 win over valiant Muncy. It was a fitting end to a terrific game between district title contenders since Johnson put on a show. The junior center scored 27 points, grabbed 18 rebounds, made six steals, blocked five shots and dealt four assists as Neumann (20-1, 13-1 HAC-III) clinched District 4 Class A's top seed and either a quarterfinal bye or a game against Millville or Galeton.
CRAIG S. McKIBBEN JR./Sun-Gazette
St. John Neumann’s Alize Johnson drives past Muncy’s Ammar Sabanovic during Wednesday’s game at St. John Neumann. View additional photos at cu.sungazette.com
"Tyree coming out was a big hurt. He's one of our strongest rebounders but we told him when he got injured we weren't going to let him down so that was key," Johnson said. "That gave us more motivation. How often do you get hurt on Senior Night? That stinks, but we weren't going to let him down."
Muncy (16-6, 9-5) nearly erased a nine-point deficit in the final 2 minutes, 37 seconds, cutting the deficit to two on Billy Kolletzki's runner. The Indians, the district's No. 4 seed, rebounded a Neumann miss but Kolletzki (17 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists) just missed on a go-ahead 3-point attempt with 40 seconds remaining.
At that point, Muncy had only three fouls so Neumann was able to burn clock while the Indians fouled. When Johnson was fouled at the 15-second mark, Neumann went into the bonus and the junior had a chance to all but seal the win. As great as he had been all night, Johnson knew his performance would not mean as much if Muncy rallied for the win.
In front of a big and enthusiastic crowd, Johnson calmly sank both shots, swishing the second, while making it a four-point game. He then blocked a shot off a Muncy player seconds later and Richard Allen added another foul shot, giving Neumann its first sweep of Muncy since 2009.
"That was a lot of our pressure, but we've played a lot of tough teams the last two years so I'm more experienced so I felt like I could hit them and come through," said Johnson who had a double-double by early in the second quarter. "At the bench during the timeout I said whoever gets it just have confidence shooting. I was really confident in making the shots. I wasn't going to let our fans down."
"Alize was unbelievable," Muncy coach Jason Gresh said. "I give him all the credit in the world. He was great."
So was the way Muncy fought back.
The Knights opened a 10-point lead early in the fourth quarter and kept it around that mark for the next five minutes. Muncy never went away, though, and kept being impervious to both Neumann's pressure and the home crowd. Kolletzki was terrific while Nick Ring (14 points, 9 rebounds) and Teddy Clark (11 points) both scored in double figures and Ammar Sabanovic dealt nine assists.
Jeff Scott hit two big fourth-quarter jumpers to keep Muncy within striking distance before it went on a quick 8-2, two-minute run. The Indians fell short but gained a lot of confidence, especially if they advance to the district semifinals and play Neumann again.
"They worked hard," Gresh said. "The last time I think we traded punches pretty much the whole first half and in the third quarter they threw a couple and we didn't return them. Tonight we did a good job returning them. It was back and forth and they did a good job."
The second quarter featured 12 lead changes, the last coming right before Vidal injured his ankle going for a steal near midcourt. Vidal is one of Neumann's leading scorers and rebounders, but the Knights remained unfazed. Jordan Cole (11 points) hit two big 3-pointers to give Neumann some breathing room, Richard Allen dealt seven assists and Noah Beiter was outstanding, hitting 4 of 6 shots and adding three assists.
Sophomore Ryan Reid replaced Vidal and made sure there was no drop off, scoring four points and grabbing five rebounds.
"I told them, 'Step up, it's your time,'" Neumann coach Paul Petcavage said. "Ryan did a good job filling in and they all pulled together when that (injury) happened and that was good to see. That's one of our strengths is that we have a variety of guys who can do different things at different times and hopefully we can keep that up in the future."
Neumann now can focus on tonight's showdown with Loyalsock in the inaugural Heartland Conference Tournament. The nearby rivals play at 6 p.m. in Mifflinburg and the winner advances to Saturday's title game at Williamsport.
Ammar Sabanovic 1 3-4 5, Nick Ring 6 2-2 14, Dawson Fox 2 0-0 4, Billy Kolletzki 6 2-2 16, Teddy Clark 3 4-4 11, Jeff Scott 2 0-0 4. Totals 20 11-12 54.
Alize Johnson 11 5-6 27, Jordan Cole 4 0-0 11, Richard Allen 4 1-2 9, Tyree Vidal 0 0-0 0, Noah Beiter 4 0-0 8, Ryan Reid 2 0-0 4. Totals 25 6-8 59.
Muncy10 15 14 15-54
Neumann11 17 18 13-59
3-pointers: Muncy 3 (Kolletzki 2, Clark); Neumann 3 (Cole 3).
Records: Neumann 20-1, 13-1 HAC-III. Muncy 16-6, 9-5.