SCRANTON — Abington Heights’ Alex Derry isn’t afraid to do the dirty work and Comets head coach Ken Bianchi appreciates that team-first mentality.
The senior forward made several plays in the second quarter to help Abington Heights take control, after Garden Spot got off to a quick start, and roll to a 75-47 win in a PIAA Class 5A boys basketball first round game Friday night.
Derry scored, after hauling in an offensive rebound, to tie the game at 22 and then drew a charge on Garden Spot sharpshooter Jordan Shewbridge, which resulted in the third foul for the Spartans’ guard. Derry also took a charge on Shewbridge late in the first.
“We have a lot of faith in Alex,” Bianchi said. “He’s one of the few guys that will stand in there, every game, and take a charge. That play changed the whole game.”
Derry also assisted on a 3-pointer by Jack Nealon that started a 10-0 run and Abington Heights took a 34-27 lead into halftime.
“We always try to get the great shot instead of the good shot,” Derry said of the team’s offensive mindset.
Garden Spot (15-14) led 19-18 at the end of the first quarter. Keontae Nunn scored eight of his team-high 15 points and Shewbridge knocked down two 3-pointers in the quarter for the Spartans. Jackson Danzig scored seven of his game-high 18 points in the first for Abington Heights (23-3).
“We knew, coming in, that they were a great shooting team and that they were going to make some 3s,” Abington Heights junior forward George Tinsley said. “They started making everything and we knew we had to buckle down and play some defense.”
The Comets did just that. Sophomore guard Corey Perkins had two steals, and Danzig and Nealon each had one in the second quarter.
“We had a few steals that led to nice, easy baskets,” Tinsley said. “That got our energy going and Jack hit some huge 3’s.”
Tinsley, who finished with 15 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists, scored six in the second for the Comets.
“We settled down and moved the ball around a little more,” Bianchi said. “We tried to get it inside because they may have had the speed, but I thought we had a better inside game.”
Perkins finished with 11 points and eight rebounds, giving Abington Heights four players in double figures.
“We don’t try to take selfish shots,” Tinsley said. “If you’re open, we’re going to dish it and guys knocked down shots.”
Nealon hit his fourth 3-pointer to give Abington Heights a 39-27 lead with 6:38 left in the third quarter and the Comets never looked back. He scored 19 points with four 3-pointers in the district title game, continued his hot shooting by scoring 15 (5 for 8 from behind the arc).
“My confidence has been very high lately,” Nealon said. “Even though the first one didn’t go down, I knew I had to keep shooting.”
Bianchi has been impressed by Nealon’s poise under pressure and heaped high praised on the junior guard.
“He’s improved more from last year to this year than any player I’ve ever coached,” Bianchi said. “We trust him with the ball and he doesn’t turn it over.”
Abington Heights, the District 2 champions, will play Chester, (19-8) the fourth seed out of District 1, in the second round of the state playoffs at 8 p.m. March 13 at Liberty High School in Bethlehem.
“I expect a heck of a game,” Bianchi said. “They’re a perennial power. We got the upper hand last year and it took two overtimes.”
Reach Robert Tomkavage at 570-704-3941 or on Twitter @rtomkavage.