PICTURED ABOVE: Gerry Rose, who had 31 points in a win by the NEPA Elite 16U Tillery team, goes up for rebound Sunday. (Tom Robinson Photo)
By Tom Robinson, NEPASportsNation.com
EAST STROUDSBURG – Even an off day shooting was not about to stop the NEPA Elite 15U Dempsey boys team Sunday.
Playing well in other areas and eventually hitting some key shots late allowed NEPA Elite to lead from wire to wire and overcome a 2-for-20 start on 3-pointers Sunday during a 50-36 victory over Andre Catlett Elite in the finale of The Hoop Group Summer Warm-Up at East Stroudsburg University.
NEPA Elite finished 2-1 in the 15U Division Pool A, losing a first-place tiebreaker to the New Jersey Panthers HGSL team that it fell to in overtime Saturday night to start competition in the four-team pool.
“The key was really that we defended through our scoring drought and we continued to win the rebounding battle,” coach Tommy Dempsey said. “We did some little things where we were able to save a game where we did not make a lot of our 3s.”
After making 25 shots from beyond the arc in Saturday’s two games and showing proficiency on 3-pointers throughout the spring portion of the AAU season, NEPA Elite naturally kept relying on its perimeter shooting while trying to build an early lead Sunday.
From the bench, Dempsey kept reminding his players that most of their attempts were quality shots so they could expect their percentage to ultimately improve.
“We’re a very good 3-point shooting team,” Dempsey said. “We share the ball and make the extra pass and we take high-quality threes. So, for us to start 2-for-20 is something that we had to play through.”
NEPA Elite held ACE scoreless for the first 6:45 and built a 20-6 lead on the way to a 27-11 advantage on the first basket of the second half.
ACE started 0-for-17 when anyone other than its leading scorer took a shot. It used a 14-0 run to get within 29-28.
Nate Aviles then broke the drought with a 3-pointer from high on the left side. It started a stretch in which NEPA Elite went 3-for-4 on 3-pointers with Tony Battaglia assisting on all three and Jordan Shaffer and Brody Martin making the other shots.
“You feel like eventually someone’s got to knock one down and break the ice,” Dempsey said. “Aviles did that and hit one from the left wing after they were really on an extended run.
“That broke the ice and guys kind of settled in.”
After the last ACE 3-pointer of the game, the shots by Shaffer and Martin started and ended a 10-point streak that capped a 15-3 run to a 44-31 lead.
Shaffer went 5-for-6 from the foul line, made another 3-pointer and finished with 15 points and 5 rebounds.
Brayden Rose scored 8 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, leading a 42-21 dominance on the boards by NEPA Elite.
Aviles and Brian Dempsey contributed five rebounds each.
Battaglia had six assists and Andrew Kettel had three. Battaglia and Aviles each made two steals.
Steven Moore made the only two shots he took and blocked three shots.
Shaffer and Kettel are from Abington Heights. Aviles is from Dunmore, Rose from Riverside, Battaglia from Scranton, Martin from Scranton Prep, Dempsey from Seton Catholic Central in Binghamton, N.Y. and Moore from Tunkhannock.
All six NEPA Elite teams won at least once on the weekend, but the Dempsey team led the way with the best weekend record.
The teams began a busy closing stretch with the stop at East Stroudsburg University. The four established teams will head to Atlantic City for three days, beginning Wednesday and go right from there to the season-ending Hoop Group event at Spooky Nook Sports in Manheim. The two newest teams, squads from further south added to the club out of Riverfront Sports in Scranton, will participate at Spooky Nook July 8-9.
A recap of each of the other NEPA Elite teams from their Sunday games:
NEPA Elite 17U Coyle
PA Hoops Academy HGSL held NEPA Elite scoreless for the final 3:54 to rally for a 45-40 victory in the 17U Pool A game.
NEPA Elite finished 1-2 for third in the four-team pool.
The offensive rebounding that keyed Saturday’s victory also kept NEPA Elite on top heading to the stretch Sunday.
Ryan Nealon gave NEPA Elite a four-point lead on a 3-pointer to make it 35-31 with 9:20 left.
Mason Fedor made the advantage 38-34 on a putback with 7:23 left.
Oliver Almonte converted an offensive rebound for the final lead with 3:54 remaining, 40-39.
Trailing 41-40 coming out of a timeout with 2:12 left, NEPA Elite got four shots with the help of three straight offensive rebounds, but could not get any of the extra chances to fall. Another shot at the lead, following a Nealon steal, also failed to produce the go-ahead score.
Nealon finished with 11 points. Almonte had 10 and Mikey Cumbo added 9.
Fedor and Nealon are from Abington Heights. Almonte is from Scranton while Cumbo is from Dallas.
NEPA Elite 17U Frank
NEPA Elite won its final game to finish 1-1 Saturday and 1-2 overall while playing in the 17U Division Pool B.
After falling to The City, 51-48, NEPA Elite handled the Lehigh Valley Force, 55-33, in its last game.
Daniel Santaniello scored 15 points in the first 8 minutes of the second half against Lehigh Valley when NEPA Elite expanded its lead from 23-16 to 48-26.
Santaniello had 17 of his game-high 21 points in the second half.
Jayden Burrell scored seven points in the win.
Gene Curtin led the team in rebounds and assists with five each.
George Sabatini had six points, four rebounds and two blocked shots.
Nick Williams and Santaniello had two steals each.
Ricky Vinansky led NEPA Elite during the loss with 15 points.
Vinansky and Demaja Dunston, who added nine points, each hit a pair of 3-pointers.
Trailing by 10, NEPA Elite scored seven straight points in the final 1:01 to get within three, but ran out of time when it had too many fouls to give and four in the final 10.2 seconds were not enough to get The City to the foul line.
Curtin started the late rally with four straight points. Vinansky added a back-court steal and drive to get within four with 31 seconds left. Williams made one of two free throws with 13.2 remaining.
Dunston and Vinansky are from Mid Valley. Santaniello is from Scranton Prep, Burrell from Scranton, Curtin from Abington Heights, Sabatini from Holy Redeemer and Williams from Dallas.
NEPA Elite 17U Zimmerman
NEPA Elite split its two games for the day to finish 1-2 and in third place of four teams in the 17U Division Pool E.
After beating East Coast Power Williams, 51-38, NEPA Elite battled with pool champion Tokyo Samurai 17U Red in a 58-48 loss.
Defense paved the way to the first win by NEPA Elite’s new team out of the Shamokin and Pottsville areas after the team lost in the final minute of its debut Saturday night.
NEPA Elite scored the first seven points against East Coast and never trailed, holding the Power to an 0-for-9 start with seven turnovers and not allowing a field goal until more than eight minutes into the game.
Travis Richie and Dallas George led the defensive effort with four steals each. Jay Hile cleared six defensive rebounds in the first half and George made all of his steals in the second half.
Isaac Thomas went 4-for-7 from the floor and hit both of his free throws while scoring a team-high 11 points.
Brian Britton had eight points and four assists.
Hile finished with nine rebounds.
Jenssyn Shuey had three assists.
NEPA Elite outscored East Coast, 26-7, through the middle of the second half to open the game’s biggest lead to 26 points. The Power then scored the game’s final 13 points to cut the margin in half.
NEPA Elite stayed within a point until 10 minutes remained against Tokyo before the lead briefly grew to as many as 18.
Britton had team-highs of 17 points, 6 rebounds and 2 steals. He was 4-for-9 on 3-pointers.
Tyler Reigel was 2-for-4 from long distance while adding 10 points and 2 assists.
Hile added eight points. Hile, Shuey and Ries Naugle each grabbed four rebounds.
Shuey and Hile are from Shamokin. Britton is from Southern Columbia, Reigel from Mifflinburg, Naugle from Selinsgrove, Thomas from Blue Mountain and George from Eastern Lebanon County (ELCO).
NEPA Elite 16U Tillery
NEPA Elite recovered from a 64-42 loss to Drogheda Wolves in an early-morning game to defeat East Coast Power McGowan, 60-53.
Gerry Rose led the win with 31 points, allowing NEPA Elite to finish 1-2 and tie two other teams for second-best in the four-team Pool B.
NEPA Elite went ahead of the Power with a 14-point streak that included the last 11 points of the first half.
Rose had the team’s first 8 second-half points and 18 of 30 total by NEPA Elite after halftime.
Pedro Lugo’s three-point play started the game-changing run.
Rose set up a Robby Lucas 3-pointer for the lead, then hit one off a Brycen Martin feed to end the half. Another Rose 3-pointer capped the streak and created a 33-24 lead 1:15 into the second half.
The closest the Power got the rest of the way was six points.
The second and final time that happened, Rose hit a runner with 1:44 left, then Martin took a defensive rebound coast-to-coast to convert a floater in transition for a 60-50 lead with 1:10 left.
Martin added 10 points in the win.
Rose made four 3-pointers, including three in the second half.
NEPA Elite cut a 15-point halftime deficit to five before Drogheda ran away for good in the 8 a.m. game.
Rose scored 10 points while Martin and Lucas added nine each.
Rose is from Riverside, Martin from Scranton Prep and Lucas is from Abington Heights.
NEPA Elite 15U Kingery
NEPA Elite lost both its 15U Division games.
Playing in the southern group of the club’s first weekend of competition, it lost two crossover games Sunday, falling to New Jersey Roadrunners HGSL, 64-36, and Stack Sports Atom, 49-30. The results left the team at 1-2 while playing opponents from three different pools.
Stack Sports scored seven points in 30 seconds while not letting NEPA Elite out of the backcourt in the middle of an 11-0 run to an 18-4 lead with 10:53 left in the half.
NEPA Elite scored the game’s next seven points making it 18-11 for the closest it got the rest of the way.
Sean Gaddy made a steal to set up a Shazier Bethea layup.
Bethea, who also had a steal in the 7-0 run, finished with a team-high seven points.
Bethea is from Minersville and Gaddy is from Blue Mountain.