By Tom Robinson, NEPABasketball.com
SCRANTON – When Scranton was holding West Scranton scoreless for the first 11:37 and building a 24-point, second-quarter lead, it was difficult to picture clutch defensive plays being needed late.
That, however, is exactly what was required for Scranton to escape with its first Lackawanna League boys basketball victory Friday night.
John Rose and Tahg Jones provided the tough defense in the final two seconds and the Knights came away with a 49-48, home-court victory over the Invaders in a Division 1 game.
West Scranton had the ball with the chance to go ahead just once after the game’s first three minutes. That came on an in-bounds play from its backcourt, in front of the Scranton bench, after Rose missed two foul shots with 1.9 seconds left and Jalen Gregory wisely let the rebound bounce out of play.
The Invaders fired a long pass, but Rose was there to bat it out of bounds, leaving just 0.5 seconds on the clock for another in-bounds pass from the left sideline in the frontcourt.
West Scranton got the ball into Cayden Merrifield deep in the left corner.
Merrifield was 3-for-4 on 3-pointers in the last five minutes, including hitting two straight in the last 33 seconds. He could not, however, get off a shot before the buzzer with Jones smothering him. Just in case, Jones also swatted the shot away.
“We stuck together and kept our energy up,” said Marcus Bauman, who went 3-for-4 from the line in the last 50 seconds and led Scranton with 15 points and 12 rebounds. “Boxing out and hustling back on defense kept us there.”
West Scranton made sure it was not easy, even after falling into 16-0 and 27-3 holes.
“They’re always a tough team to play,” Jones said. “They always work hard.”
Scranton’s defense disrupted West Scranton early.
Merrifield was coming off a 32-point effort in a league-opening win against North Pocono.
Jones limited him to seven shots, just three from inside the arc, through three quarters. His denial of the ball often kept Merrifield from settling into his other responsibility of running the Invaders offense from the point.
The disruption led to West Scranton committing five turnovers while going 0-for-10 and not even hitting the rim on three of its shots in the first quarter.
Scranton also got six points off steals and another on the fastbreak for a 10-0 lead after the one quarter.
The lead grew to 16-0 as the Invaders missed their first 15 attempts before Gregory’s reverse layup with 4:23 left in the half.
The first score was the result of some of the factors that eventually got the Invaders back in the game.
Nick Forsette started it with one of his game-high five steals.
Merrifield, who first got involved as a passer, made the quick relay in transition to Gregory. The sophomore wound up scoring 13 of his game-high 18 points in the fourth quarter, but also led all players in assists with five.
Gregory came back from an arm injury to get his first playing time of the season. He came off the bench along with Nick Gioia, who had played very little this season, also because of injury.
The inside combination wound up producing 16 points and 16 rebounds. Gregory had 10 of the points. Gioia led the Invaders with 9 rebounds.
The deficit, however, got larger before West began the steady climb that turned it into a one-point game at the end.
Jason Shields came off the bench to hit two 3-pointers 25 seconds apart as part of Scranton shooting 5-for-8 from long range in the second quarter.
Patrick McCormack drained the last of those 3s and Bauman followed by scoring off an offensive rebound to make the lead 27-3 going into the last two minutes of the half.
West Scranton finished the second quarter with a 6-2 run, then built off of that with nine straight points early in the third quarter to get to 31-20.
Gioia had six points as West Scranton opened the fourth quarter with an 8-0 streak to close within, 37-32.
Bauman slowed the momentum by working inside for two baskets, but that’s when Merrifield heated up to make it close late.
In addition to his key late deflection, Rose was 4-for-4 from the floor, including a pair of 3-pointers while adding 10 points and 3 assists.
Jones added to his defensive contributions with six points, six rebounds and two assists. Derome White had three steals.
Both teams are 1-1 in the Lackawanna League and 5-5 overall.
MORE FRIDAY REPORTS: For roundups of Friday's District 2 high school games, return to NEPABasketball.com later this afternoon.