SCRANTON — Jackson Danzig and George Tinsley combined to score 50 points, but it was the contributions from a few other players that helped Abington Heights pull away from Scranton as head coach Ken Bianchi earned his 758th career win.
Sophomore guard Corey Perkins and junior guard Jack Nealon each added eight points to help the Comets defeat the Knights, 68-56, in a Lackawanna League Division 1 boys basketball game Jan. 19.
“I give a lot of credit to our role players, we needed them, and I’m hoping it will carry through for the rest of the year,” Bianchi said.
With the win, Bianchi moved past former Forest City coach Julius Prezelski for most victories by a coach who spent the majority of their career at schools that now make up District 2.
Bianchi, who took over at Abington Heights in 1996, also coached at Line Mountain, Scranton Tech and West Scranton.
“I’ve been blessed, I’ve always had some great players that would listen,” Bianchi said. “It’s an honor to be following Julius.”
Bianchi, who always puts his players first, was happy the attention can now shift back to their goals.
“I was always worried that (the wins record) was taking away from the focus of what we have to do this year,” he said. “We had to make sure we weren’t thinking about it. I was pretty sure that, for the rest of the year, I’d win one more game.”
Scranton (9-5, 4-2 Div. 1) made three 3-pointers and used tight man-to-man defense to lead 15-14 at the end of the first quarter. Senior guard Robbie McAndrew scored six of his 11 points in the quarter for the Knights.
“They’re athletic and we started playing their game,” Bianchi said. “They were very aggressive, very tough.”
Danzig, a senior guard, scored 18 of his game-high 27 points in the first half and hit a pair of 3-pointers in the second quarter.
“I come out and try to shoot as many shots as I can,” Danzig said. “Once I start making them, I get in a rhythm. If I’m not making them, I try to find my teammates and put them in good positions to score.”
With the Comets trailing by two points with 1:45 left in the second quarter, Danzig made a 3-pointer, Perkins followed with a steal and basket, and Danzig knocked down a mid-range jumper to give Abington Heights a 28-24 halftime lead.
“We got two quick baskets at the end of the first half, one on our press, and that helped us,” Bianchi said. “There was a good trap and Corey had the big steal, then we got the follow-up from Jackson and we really had some momentum going into halftime.”
The Comets carried the positive energy into the second half, outscoring Scranton 21-8 in the third quarter.
Perkins hit a 3-pointer to start the quarter and Nealon followed with another one to put Abington Heights (11-2, 4-1 Div. 1) ahead by 10.
Scranton’s Cameron Jordan answered with a 3-pointer to momentarily halt Abington Heights’ charge, but Danzig threw down a dunk off an alley-oop pass from Perkins and Nealon made another three-point shot to kick-start a 15-5 Comets run to end the third.
“At halftime, coach said someone besides Jackson and George had to make a play,” Nealon said. “Corey hit the first one and then I stepped in and had the confidence to keep shooting and made both of them. He told us to fire them up and they went in.”
Nealon believes the team’s constant motion on offense helped open up scoring opportunities.
“It took a lot of passing and cutting,” he said. “We knew if we got them to move around, they would break down. Everyone got open shots and it worked in our favor.”
Tinsley, who finished with 23 points and 14 rebounds, scored 12 in the fourth quarter to help seal the win.
“In the second half, once they starting pressing, we were able to get easier buckets,” he said. “They started to gamble more and we were able to capitalize.”
The junior forward recognized the importance of the win in terms of the Division 1 race and Bianchi’s milestone.
“We knew we had to come out with a win, because with the loss to Prep we know we can’t lose another one,” Tinsley said. “It’s just a big win for coach…it’s phenomenal. It’s hard to put into perspective because it’s such an amazing record. We wanted to get it done for him.”
Bianchi, who started his coaching career at Line Mountain, credits some pointers he received from Mike DeAntona, who coached that school’s football team, for his sustained success.
“He gave me the best advice ever,” Bianchi said. “He said if you plan on sticking around and being successful there are two main things you have to do: one of them is (having) discipline with your players and the other one was loyalty. I took those things to heart and its been good to me.”
Those principles have carried over to Bianchi’s players, as well.
“He’s taught me so much discipline,” Tinsley said. “He’s my role model on and off the court. I look up to him so much and it’s just great having him as a coach.”