Size, rebounding carry Knoch past Kittanning
The Knoch boys basketball team emphasizes rebounding in each practice. That extra work — and a notable size advantage — benefited the Knights on Friday night.
Behind a dominant rebounding effort, Knoch overwhelmed Kittanning, 62-37, in the opening game of the Freeport tournament.
“We haven’t been shooting the ball well from the perimeter, and we put a lot of time into that,” Knoch coach Ron McNabb said. “One of our points of emphasis every day in practice is rebounding — offensive rebounding, get to the boards. I think we’re getting through to these guys how important that is.”
Matt Zanella led a balanced scoring attack for Knoch (5-3), finishing with 14 points despite sitting out nearly half the first and second quarters with foul trouble. P.J. Gourley added 13 points off the bench, and Austin Hannes had 11.
A majority of the Knights’ points came inside as they attacked Kittanning’s smaller front line. Zanella and Gourley stand 6-foot-4, while fellow forward Mac Christy is 6-3. Kittanning’s tallest starter, Tanner Witenski, is 6-3, but the Knights’ next-tallest player is 6-1.
“They had a couple guys in there who were not as big as us, but they were physical kids,” McNabb said. “Kittanning always plays hard and physical like that, and that’s why I was looking forward to this game. I liked the way our guys responded.”
Kittanning (2-6) played its fourth straight game without leading scorer Noah Kunst, who injured his ankle earlier this month against Greensburg Salem. Zane Dudek and Noah Spang scored 13 points each to lead the Wildcats.
“It took a couple games for us to really get the experience without (Kunst) in the game,” Kittanning coach Bill Henry said. “Kids are always looking for him, obviously, so now when he’s not there, it’s taken some practice and taken a couple games. We played well at times here, but obviously we missed his 3-point shooting and his ability to rebound.”
Knoch never trailed, taking control of the game almost from the opening tip. Even though Zanella, the Knights’ leading scorer, picked up his second foul midway through the first quarter, Knoch led 13-6 after the period and 28-15 at halftime.
“Our weakness is we’re not very tall,” Henry said. “They outrebounded us. That really hurt us on the offensive and defensive ends. We’d make a stop, we’d get the shot we wanted them to take, but we couldn’t get the defensive rebound. They just did a great job on the boards.”
McNabb credited Gourley, a sophomore, and some of the team’s other young players for the way they responded. Gourley scored eight of his 13 points in the first half. Fellow sophomores Hannes and Devin Campbell came on strong in the second half, when Hannes scored nine of his 11 points and Campbell tallied six of his nine.
“For a long stretch there, we had five sophomores out there on the court,” McNabb said. “I really liked the way our sophomores executed. They didn’t back down, and they really worked at it.”