The high school basketball playoffs haven’t begun yet, but for teams like the North Star and Conemaugh Township boys – which are battling for postseason berths – playoff time is now.

Both squads brought postseason urgency to the Indians’ home court Wednesday evening, fostering a playoff atmosphere as the Cougars rode a 22-point third quarter to a 54-48 road victory in a pivotal WestPAC North battle.

“We knew if we could take this game, we’d probably have a shot at the WestPAC championship. We’ve got to win one more game now,” North Star coach Jack Loya said. “I told them ‘We’re away from home, and things are going to happen to you. Don’t get upset and just play hard.’ ”

The Cougars (18-5) led throughout the first half, largely on the strength of 11 points from senior guard Josh Daly.

But a slew of turnovers hurt North Star, as the Indians caught up late in the half and started to build their lead early in the third quarter.

Blake Zaman hit a 3-pointer with less than 10 seconds remaining in the second quarter and Tim Johnson pounced on the inbound pass for an easy layup to give Township (16-6) a three-point halftime advantage.

Coming out of the break, Johnson and Muir hit back-to-back 3-pointers to put Township up by seven.

“I thought we’d have that momentum going in at the end of the second,” Township coach Scott Cable said. “We were finding the open man in the zone. Jack did a good job coaching, switching up the defenses, and it took us out of a little sync.”

The Cougars’ switch to the 1-3-1 trap appeared to turn the tide. While they didn’t force many turnovers, the Cougars rebounded well and created points on the break to launch a 13-0 run and regain control of the contest. North Star senior Dave Kavar hit a 3-pointer to tie the score at 33 with 4:30 left in the third, sparking the rally.

“We came out timid in the first half, and at halftime our coach got on us and we knew we had to step up,” said Kavar, who led North Star with 21 points and 14 rebounds. “My team stepped up as a team in the second half and played better defense than I’ve ever seen them play. There was an intensity there that brought us back.”

For the Cougars, Daly finished with 15 points, while Alija Petrilla and Luke Zellum finished with eight points apiece.

Johnson had 10 points and added four steals for the Indians.

Kevin Byer led Conemaugh Township with 12 points.

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