BETHLEHEM — For the second consecutive season, Abington Heights’ Jackson Danzig delivered in the clutch against Chester.
After scoring 18 of his 30 points in two overtime periods last year to lift the Comets to the PIAA semifinals, the senior guard scored the game-winning basket on a strong drive to the hoop with 24 seconds left to give Abington Heights a 49-48 victory over the Clippers in a Class 5A boys basketball second round game Tuesday night at Liberty High School.
“I just try to take everything one step at a time,” Danzig said. “I had full confidence in myself. I tried to get to the rim and draw a foul… I powered up strong and made the layup.”
Abington Heights head coach Ken Bianchi also placed his trust in Danzig to make a play.
“He has the most experience as a senior, so we put the ball in his hands,” Bianchi said. “Usually, he’ll come through for us and he happened to do it again.”
Despite trailing by 17 points with 2:55 left in the third quarter, Chester (19-9) had a chance for a win in the final seconds but Brian Randolph’s layup attempt bounced wide off the backboard and into the hands of Abington Heights’ Jack Nealon.
“We didn’t want to go home,” Nealon said. “They kept battling, but we didn’t want this to be our last game so we gutted it out. Hats off to Chester; they’re an amazing team. They have a great point guard (Michael Smith) and (Randolph) is a great scorer. They played their butts off, but we battled through it.”
Abington Heights (24-3), the District 2 champions, will play Northeastern (27-3), the third seed out of District 3, in the quarterfinals of the state playoffs 7:30 p.m. Friday at Martz Hall in Pottsville.
Danzig, who finished with a game-high 21 points and grabbed nine rebounds, scored six in the first quarter when Abington Heights built a 14-7 lead.
“We wanted to get out strong so we could play comfortably and get them on their heels,” Danzig said.
Danzig scored five points and George Tinsley added a bucket during a 7-3 run to start the second quarter that allowed Abington Heights to stretch its lead to 11.
“We didn’t really have the greatest offensive first half,” Tinsley said. “We knew that we had to be real strong with the ball and get to the basket. Once we did that, we were able to create some open shots.”
Chester’s Rahmee Gilbert made a 3-pointer to pull the Clippers within six, 25-19, with 6:46 remaining in the third quarter, but Abington Heights’ Corey Perkins responded with two plays that sparked a 15-4 run to give the Comets a 40-23 lead.
First, Perkins knocked down a 3-pointer off an assist from Nealon. Then, the sophomore guard scored a basket off a steal.
“(Corey) brings a lot of energy with his defense,” Tinsley said. “It helps us out and picks up the team.”
Chester rattled off seven consecutive points to cut its deficit to 10 with 7:43 left in the fourth quarter, but Nealon, who finished with eight points and five assists, answered with a 3-pointer off a pass from Mike Malone.
The Clippers then scored 14 of the next 16 points to pull within one, with 4:28 left in the game before Malone scored off a dish from Nealon.
“Everyone played great and I’m just so proud that they’re my teammates,” Danzig said.
Chester freshman forward Karell Watkins, who had eight points and nine rebounds, scored on a putback and sophomore guard Malik Langley put the Clippers ahead, 48-47, with 3:13 left.
Abington Heights had just six turnovers through the first three quarters, but they were frazzled by Chester’s pressure defense in the fourth and coughed the ball up four times.
Turnovers plagued Chester throughout the whole game. The Clippers committed 11, but the most costly one came when they had a chance to take the lead with 12 seconds left and dribbled the ball out of bounce.
Smith led Chester with 11 points and Randolph chipped in with nine.
Reach Robert Tomkavage at 570-704-3941 or on Twitter @rtomkavage.