POTTSVILLE — Jackson Danzig scorched the nets for a career-high 38 points, but it was a defensive play by the Comets senior guard that helped Abington Heights put the game away.
Northeastern senior guard Fred Mulbah made a steal and was looking to cut the Bobcats’ deficit to seven points with 1:45 left in the third quarter, but Danzig swatted his layup attempt off the backboard and then drilled his eighth 3-pointer, off an assist from junior forward George Tinsley, 20 seconds later to put the Comets back up 12.
Riding the momentum, Abington Heights scored the next 10 points and coasted to a 76-56 win over Northeastern in a PIAA Class 5A boys basketball quarterfinal Friday night at Martz Hall.
“Defense was our main priority,” Danzig said. “We knew they are a very strong, physical team and we didn’t want them to get any second chances.”
Abington Heights (25-3), the District 2 champions, advance to the state semifinals for the second consecutive year and will play District 12 champion Bonner-Prendergast (25-4) at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Freedom High School in Bethlehem.
Danzig connected on five of seven 3-point shot attempts in the first quarter and the Comets jumped out to a 15-3 lead.
“We wanted to get in a rhythm early, so we could get our flow going and have our confidence up through the roof,” Danzig said. “After I made the third 3 in a row, I knew it was going to be a good game. I was just letting the ball come to me and my teammates found me.”
Northeastern head coach Jon Eyster couldn’t help but be impressed by Danzig’s offensive display.
“I’m wondering what he missed?,” Eyster asked. “He was really good tonight. We watched plenty of tape where they didn’t shoot like that. With our size, we have to make shots early in the game so we don’t get down. If we do, it’s a different game because then they have to chase us and I don’t think they could.
”It was crucial for us to get a lead and we didn’t.”
Tinsley, sophomore guard Corey Perkins, Danzig and junior guard Jack Nealon each hit a 3-pointer in the five minutes of the second quarter to put the Comets up 16, but head coach Ken Bianchi wasn’t thrilled with the way Abington Heights ended the first half.
“We were a little lackadaisical right at the end of the second quarter,” Bianchi said. “There was about a minute left in the quarter and we were going to go for the last shot, and then (Northeastern) scored the next five points.
“We ‘calmly’ talked to them at halftime about how we should do things better and they listened in the second half.”
But, for the second consecutive game, Abington Heights let a big lead start to vanish.
Senior guard Antonio Rizzuto, a University at Albany recruit, led Northeaster (27-4) with 22 points and six rebounds, and made a 3-pointer to pull the Bobcats back with seven with 4:20 left in the third quarter.
“We lost track of him a couple times and, if you do, you might as well just put up the points,” Bianchi said.
Danzig answered with a 3-pointer and Northeaster never got closer than nine the rest of the game.
“We just had to stay calm,” Danzig said. “We were in the that position against Chester, so we were ready for it. We executed and everyone played great.”
Tinsley, who finished with 17 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and three steals, scored 12 in the second half to fuel Abington Heights’ attack.
“I knew I had to toughen up and go to the rack as strong as I could,” he said. “They had a 16-point comeback (last game), so we knew we had to keep pushing and not get into in a run-and-gun game.”
According to Bianchi, Tinsley and sophomore forward Mike Malone, who had seven rebounds and a block, epitomize Abington Heights’ lunch-pail mentality.
“We’re like the blue-collar workers, we have to dive and get the loose balls,” Bianchi said. “George was a monster and they were knocking him all over the place. We have tough players… it was a total team effort.”
Nealon, who had 13 points, seven assists and five rebounds, added 10 in the second half for the Comets.
“(Jackson) had the hot hand so we fed him the ball,” Nealon said. “Then, we they locked down (on him), we all had to make shots and we all did our part tonight.”
Reach Robert Tomkavage at 570-704-3941 or on Twitter @rtomkavage.