By Mike Bebernes
Senior guard Ikenna Nwadibia dominated late in the fourth quarter to lead Stuart Hall High School to a 47-40 win over Lick-Wilmerding High School in the semifinal round of the Bay Counties League West playoffs on Thursday.
Locked in a one-point game with under two minutes remaining, top-seeded Stuart Hall (20-6, 8-2) lost its leading scorer when senior forward Frank Duncan fouled out. At that point, Nwadibia knew it was on him to lead his team to victory.
Nwadibia responded by scoring nine consecutive points and forcing a momentum-shifting turnover in the next two minutes to lead his team to victory. He finished the game with 14 total points.
“When [Duncan] fouled out, I knew I had to pick it up,“ Nwadibia said.
Riding Nwadibia’s production, Stuart Hall outscored Lick-Wilmerding 18-8 in the fourth quarter.
“Ikenna took over. He won the game. Just flat out, bottom line,” said Stuart Hall Head Coach Charles Jonhson.
The win puts Stuart Hall in the league tournament finals, to be played on Saturday against third-seeded University High School, who advanced with a dominating, 79-41 win over Marin Academy the other semifinal on Thursday.
Fouth-seeded Lick-Wilmerding (16-11, 6-4) nullified Stuart Hall’s interior size advantage with a trapping zone defense throughout the game. The Tigers forced 15 turnovers and 15 points from senior forward Eli Gross helped Lick-Wilmerding take a 32-29 lead into the fourth quarter.
“We’re a team that wants to get up the floor, [the zone] slows us down and I thought we kinda played into that,” said Johnson.
The zone was particularly effective on Frank Duncan, who was held eight points, down from his 16.2 average, on 3-of-9 shooting. Duncan faced constant double and triple teams inside the key and battled foul trouble for most of the second half.
Both teams played ferocious defense from the tip-off and ball handlers were harassed from baseline to baseline. Loose balls and rebounds often resulted in physical battles for possession.
Stuart Hall’s seven-point margin of victory matched the largest lead either team had all night.