Aliquippa topples Lincoln Park to return to PIAA title game
Give him another year or two and Aliquippa freshman Deoveon Crute could be the team’s next star, says his coach.
But in the final seconds Tuesday, with a sold-out crowd abuzz and three starters on the bench, Crute’s time arrived a little early. With the Quips just 8 seconds away from Hershey, teammate Sheldon Jeter hustled after an errant court-length pass and fed it to Crute, whose crucial layup clinched a 55-52 victory over Lincoln Park in a PIAA Class AA semifinal at Geneva College.
With seniors Chucky Humphries, Robert Crute and Jassir Jordan all fouled out, Aliquippa (29-0) relied on whoever it had left. Senior starter Kaezon Pugh led with 16 points, made two key free throws with 18.7 seconds left and helped organize a makeshift lineup down the stretch.
In the final seconds, that included a little-used freshman.
“Being a freshman, I tried to step up and fill Chucky’s spot,” Crute said.
“I thought he was going to crap himself when I called him to go in,” Aliquippa coach Nick Lackovich said with a laugh. “He came up big. (Javod Fields, big), Thomas Perry, big. Jumar Mike, big. Bob Cashaw, big. Everybody that came in off that bench, and we need every last one of them, they all came in big.”
Aliquippa lost Crute’s older brother Robert to fouls with 7:42 left. Humphries, who scored 14 points, followed him with 3:05 left. Jordan, who had 10 points, fouled out at 1:11.
Yet with its depth, Aliquippa (29-0) secured a second consecutive trip to the state finals. The Quips were runners-up last season. They’ll face District 12’s Mastery Charter North (27-3) on Saturday at Giant Center.
Lincoln Park’s Nelly Cummings had 20 points, and Nick Aloi scored 13 for the Leopards, which had a one-point, third-quarter lead but never led in the fourth.
Aliquippa also defeated Lincoln Park (25-5) on Feb. 27 in the WPIAL finals. The Quips won 49-45, when Pugh made two free throws to clinch. Pugh had two crucial rebounds in the final 40 seconds Tuesday.
“I trust everybody, just like everybody trusts me,” Pugh said. “At the end of the game for us, who would have thought it’d be me? It could have been Chucky or Jassir — one of the basketball heroes. … I’m never at the top of the key (running the offense). Whatever it takes to win, that’s what I had to do.”
Ahead 50-49 with 39 seconds left, Pugh snagged the rebound when Jeter missed the front of a one-and-one. Three seconds later, when Jeter made only one of two free throws, Pugh forced a jumpball and Aliquippa maintained possession.
“He himself would not let us lose this game,” Lackovich said. “He made big play after big play. Big rebound after big rebound.”
With the Quips trying to consume clock, they put the ball in Pugh’s hands. He was fouled with 18.7 seconds left and made both free throws to lead 53-49.
With 8 seconds left, Lincoln Park’s Keeno Holmes cut the lead to one. The freshman was fouled shooting a 3-pointer and made all three free throws. After the last, Pugh was asked to inbound. He overthrew Jeter with a court-length pass, but Jeter chased it down just before the end line, twisted and threw a pass to Crute for the layup.
With 5.2 seconds left, Aliquippa led 55-52. A last-second heave fell short.
“I think everybody on our team thought it was out of bounds and they didn’t get back (on defense),” Lincoln Park coach Mike Bariski said. “I even thought it was out of bounds, but he made a (heck) of a play at the end.”