Greater Johnstown built an early double-digit advantage only to see Westmont Hilltop pull within two points in the second quarter of Thursday night’s Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference boys basketball semifinal game.
Then, the Trojans regrouped behind a 27-point effort by Anderson Franklin and a 21-point, nine-rebound night by Joziah Wyatt-Taylor.
Greater Johnstown beat Westmont Hilltop 82-72 and earned a spot in the LHAC title game.
The Trojans (20-3) will face top-seeded Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic in a rematch of a game the Marauders won during the regular season.
“We talked about having a good start at the beginning of the game and we talked about it again at halftime,” Trojans coach Ryan Durham said. “I wish we could have kept that momentum. I thought we relaxed a little bit and let them get back into the game.
“But in these types of games when you have two good teams playing and you’re playing for a chance to win a championship, that is to be expected.”
Drey Toney had 11 points, including three 3-pointers for the Trojans.
Westmont Hilltop was led by Austin Svencer’s 20 points, including three fourth-quarter 3-pointers that pulled the Hilltoppers within 78-70 in the final minute. Ashton Fortson (15), Tanner Civis (14) and Landon Weeks (10) also scored in double digits for Westmont Hilltop (18-5).
“We just got off to a slow start,” Westmont Hilltop coach Dave Roman Jr. said.
“They got us out of the defense we started in. We had to match up. We had to be tough and guard. Anderson (Franklin) is a handful. Joziah (Wyatt-Taylor) is a handful. You try to be as physical as they’ll allow you to be.
“Sometimes the aggressor gets the call and we weren’t the aggressor.”
Greater Johnstown stormed to an 8-0 lead via 3-pointers by Omarion Harris and Toney and a dunk by Franklin at 6:45.
“It was a really good start,” Franklin said.
“We just came out intense. We knew they came ready to play. So we had to be intense.”
A Franklin basket pushed the margin to 12-2 at 5:16, but the Hilltoppers closed within 20-13 after a quarter on a Civis basket with 26.5 left.
In the second quarter, Westmont Hilltop moved within 29-27 after Svencer hit two free throws with 3:50 on the clock.
But Greater Johnstown finished on an 11-3 spurt to lead 40-30 at halftime.
“We didn’t close the half very well,” Roman said. “We had a couple turnovers, a couple bad shots. If you turn it over, it’s two points for these guys. They get out in transition.”
Wyatt-Taylor converted the third of his conventional 3-point plays 13 seconds into the third quarter to put the Trojans on track again.
“It feels great to win this game,” Wyatt-Taylor said. “Last year we lost in the semifinals.”
Westmont Hilltop battled back with six 3-point field goals in the fourth quarter. In addition to Svencer’s trio from long range, Fortson and Dyaln Craft had triples in the frame.
“They just hung in there,” Durham said of the Hilltoppers.
“Some of the shots we were giving up, just credit to Westmont. They were hitting some tough shots. Sometimes that just happens.
“Our kids kept our nose to the ground and tried to build upon a lead. We have a saying this time of year. Every possession is as valuable as the last possession of the game. It’s championship possession.”