CRESSON – The Greater Johnstown High School boys basketball team gathered in a tight circle, jumping up and down near the scorer’s table moments after completing a hard-fought 57-53 victory over Hollidaysburg Area.
The Trojans successfully defended their District 6 Class AAAAA championship and won district gold for the 28th time in program history on Saturday afternoon.
But the players chanted the name of a teammate who wasn’t on the floor at Mount Aloysius College:
“Izzy, Izzy, Izzy.”
“It’s one thing to play for D6 and a championship – to play for your school and your community,” Greater Johnstown coach Ryan Durham said.
“It’s another thing to have that additional emotion because you have a teammate who can’t be with you.”
Senior starter Izir Britt has been out of the lineup several weeks with an undetermined ailment and is a patient at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.
The public address announcer called out Britt’s name first during the championship medal presentation, drawing loud cheers. Proceeds from 50-50 tickets went to the Britt family throughout the four-game schedule at Mount Aloysius.
“It means a lot. Everything is for ‘Iz,’” said Trojans senior Anderson Franklin, who scored 15 points despite contending with foul problems. “That’s a big part of our motivation too.
“We just feel like we can’t lose. We’ve got to do it for Izzy.”
The 22-3 Trojans will play the District 3 sixth-place team in the PIAA Tournament on March 6.
Greater Johnstown overcame adversity throughout a back-and-forth game against a Hollidaysburg squad that finished 14-9.
“Hollidaysburg is such a good team and coach (Brad) Lear does a great job,” Durham said.
“They’re so well-prepared.
“Even they pitched in before the game and had a donation for Izzy. When you respect a program like that, it’s just amazing.”
Trojans forward Joziah Wyatt-Taylor had 16 points and 11 rebounds.
The 6-foot-3 junior grabbed seven second-half rebounds and tallied five key points in the fourth quarter, including a conventional three-point play with 1:03 left to make it 55-50.
“Joziah has been that way all year long,” Durham said. “You could see them take an additional defender. They’re doubling him and they’re really working to try to minimize his ability in there. Even when he doesn’t get touches, he offensive rebounds. He finishes. He pulls us through in those moments.”
Wyatt-Taylor said the win had significance on multiple fronts.
“It means a lot because we can go back on our state run. Last year we made it to the Sweet 16. We are trying to go farther,” Wyatt-Taylor said. “We always play for Izzy ever since he’s been sick. That’s going to be my guy. I love him. We all do.”
Senior Gershon Simon tallied eight of his 10 points in the second half.
“I wasn’t hitting shots in the first half,” Simon said. “I knew I had to step up for my team. I just started playing harder and getting to the basket a little bit.
“It was tough. I just had to do it.”
Greater Johnstown led 17-15 after one quarter and 33-27 at halftime.
But Hollidaysburg had leads of 4-0, 11-10 and 15-14 in the first quarter.
The Golden Tigers used a 6-0 run to tie the game 33-all early in the third and the teams battled the rest of the way.
“I know sometimes it looks easy. Multiple years we’re winning 20 games,” Durham said.
“It’s really not easy. We dealt with a lot of adversity this season.
“We had 10 different starting lineups from injuries and what happened with Izzy. These kids really fought through it and they stayed with the game plan. They deserve everything they get.”