WILKES-BARRE TWP. — When Abington Heights’ George Tinsley and Mike Malone scored the first two baskets of the game after grabbing offensive rebounds, it was a sign of things to come.
Tinsley finished with 11 rebounds and Malone pulled down nine, including seven on the offensive end, to help the top-seeded Comets defeat second-seeded Dallas, 61-36, in the District 2 Class 5A boys basketball title game Sunday night at Mohegan Sun Arena.
“We needed the second-chance points when our shots were off,” Tinsley said. “It’s hard to shoot here, with the depth perception, and we knew that coming in. We knew we had to be aggressive getting rebounds.”
Abington Heights (22-3) has won seven consecutive District 2 titles (‘17 and ‘18 in 5A, ‘15 and ‘16 in 4A, and ‘12, ‘13 and ‘14 in 3A).
Junior guard Jack Nealon noted there was some pressure to bring home another championship.
“The people who used to play at Abington were texting us during the week and and were like, ‘you can’t lose this streak,’” he said. “It means a lot to them…so it’s an honor to keep it going.”
The Comets will also make their 12th consecutive state playoff appearance and will play Garden Spot (15-13), the eighth seed out of District 3, in the first round at 7:30 p.m. March 9 at Scranton High School.
Abington Heights forced Dallas into five turnovers in the first quarter and built a 13-6 lead. Corey Perkins scored off a steal, and Jackson Danzig and Tinsley each added a basket during a 6-0 run, by the Comets, to end the quarter.
Perkins, a sophomore, who was inserted into the starting lineup in January after starter Trey Koehler suffered a season-ending foot injury, finished with a game-high five steals.
“Our defense was great, most of the time, and Perkins stepped in and got better with every game,” Abington Heights head coach Ken Bianchi said.
Danzig scored five points and assisted on a basket by Tinsley, during a 7-1 run to open the second quarter, as Abington Heights stretched its lead to 29-18 with 4:39 remaining in the first half.
Alex Charlton ended a nearly 6 1/2 minute scoring drought for Dallas with a 3-pointer and also hit another one during a 10-2 spurt as the Mountaineers cut Abington Heights’ lead to five at the half.
Abington Heights scored eight of the first 10 points of the second half to push its lead to 11 with 5:40 left in the third quarter.
Tinsley found Danzig, on a backdoor pass, for a dunk and Jack Nealon for a corner 3-pointer during the Comets’ run.
“Going into halftime, we felt like Dallas had the momentum,” Nealon said. “I knew I had to step up in the second half. George gave me some great passes and I just knocked them down.”
Dallas answered with four straight points to pull back within seven, but Tinsley, who scored a game-high 21 points, made two consecutive buckets, both on offensive rebounds, to put Abington Heights ahead 34-23.
“His motor never stops,” Bianchi said. “If you drive to the basket and miss, George is going to be there to clean it up. He’s always around the basket.”
The Mountaineers continued to battle back in the second half, but each time they did Abington Heights landed another blow.
After Joey Parsons converted a four-point play to bring Dallas back within seven with 2:13 left in the third, Nealon nailed a 3-pointer after Malone tracked down an offensive rebound.
“Malone was a force on the boards and that’s what we needed,” Bianchi said. “All year, we didn’t ask him to score a lot. We wanted him to control the middle and control the boards, and he certainly did that tonight.”
After a Dallas turnover, Nealon, who finished with 19 points, knocked down his fourth 3-pointer of the game to give Abington Heights a 40-27 lead.
While Nealon had the hot hand from behind the arc, Bianchi was equally impressed with his play on defense.
He finished the game with four steals and helped hold Dallas’ Jay Bittner, who scored 27 in the semifinals, to one point.
“Their point guard (Bittner) is really good,” Bianchi said. “He runs the show and made six 3’s in the last game. Jack really, really stepped up big.”
Alex Derry scored four points in the fourth quarter to help Abington Heights seal the win.
Reach Robert Tomkavage at 570-704-3941 or on Twitter @rtomkavage.