North Xtra: Knoch rebounds well after a tough loss

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When Sterling Henry hit a jumper at the buzzer to lift Kittanning to a 68-67 victory at Knoch and drop the Knights to 2-3 on Dec. 18, first-year Knoch coach Ron McNabb was concerned how the disappointing loss would affect his Knights.

"Very much so," he said. "My coaching staff and I stayed in the office for an hour after the game talking about it. These kids are still learning about me and I'm learning about them. We didn't want them to lose confidence and we didn't want them to come in here and feel sorry for themselves."

None of which lasted very long.

"Two minutes," McNabb said. "We could tell at practice the next day they were feeling bad but after two minutes of practice they forgot about it and we had a great practice.

"Fortunately for us, our guys are pretty resilient. We came into the gym the next day and worked very hard. I tell our guys after a win we have 24 hours to enjoy it and after a loss we have 24 hours to be upset about it. They were resilient and they bounced back well."

The Knights have bounced back stronger than ever.

Since that tough Section 1-AAA loss to Kittanning, Knoch had won four of its past five heading into Wednesday night's non-section game against visiting Deer Lakes and stands 2-2 in the section, 6-4 overall. A pretty big deal for a Knoch team that hasn't had a winning season since finishing 13-11 in 2006-07.

And the Knights are doing it with balanced scoring and a shut-down defense; Knoch was allowing just 48.3 points per game, fourth fewest in Class AAA.

"We're still not where we want to be defensively," said McNabb, who spent the past two years as an assistant coach at Plum. "One of our staples is our man-to-man defense. We still have a tough time defending certain kinds of screens but the key for that is effort. Our kids are giving a great effort defensively.

"When you play as hard as you can and play as hard as our guys have been playing, that's going to make up for a lot of mistakes. That's where we are right now. We are playing very hard defensively. It's not always great defense but it is very intense defense."

Teams have been having a difficult time defending the Knights because there is no one individual to key on.

Starting point guard Austin Miller, a 6-foot-1 junior, leads the team in scoring at 12.6 points per game and is averaging seven assists per contest, forward Marc Vaughan, a 6-3 senior, is averaging 12.2 points and nine rebounds per game, and 6-4 sophomore forward Matt Zanella, the first off the bench for the Knights, is averaging 10.5 points per game.

Joining Miller and Vaughan in the starting rotation are 6-1 junior guard David Gallagher (8.2 ppg), 6-2 junior guard/forward Chris Kier and 6-4 senior forward Dakota Bruggeman, the quarterback for the football team averaging 7.7 points per game.

"Austin Miller is the guy who gets us in gear and gets the ball up the floor and sets the tone for us offensively," McNabb said. "When he's pushing the ball up the floor, our big guys are athletic and they're running the floor, we're going to get a lot of shots.

"We're playing well in transition. Our transition offense is pretty good. A lot of teams are going to the dribble-drive, we have three good post players. We just try to pound the ball inside and shoot high-percentage shots."

McNabb is hoping he has personally made his final transition. A teacher in the South Butler School District for 26 years, McNabb has been coach at Valley and Burrell, along with assistant jobs at La Roche College and two stints at Plum.

"I enjoyed my time at Valley and enjoyed my time at Burrell, but coaching at Knoch was always in the back of my mind," he said. "I knew all the kids, I knew the administration, I knew how supportive everybody was. And selfishly, it eliminated a lot of travel for me. I could have closer contact with my guys, keep track of their grades and talk to them throughout the day.

"It's kind of a dream job come true for me."

The Knights travel to New Kensington Friday night to take on Valley then welcome Mars in a key Section 1 matchup Tuesday night.

hsbasketball

Rick Davis: rdavis@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3789.


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