North Xtra: Knoch starts out on the right foot with a tipoff title

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Knoch High School boys basketball coach Ron McNabb found out a lot about his team during a trip to the northwestern part of the state for this past weekend's tipoff tournament at Keystone High School in Knox, Clarion County.

What was supposed to be a two-day tournament turned into a whirlwind, one-day event as snowy conditions forced the tournament's organizers to hold the opening- and championship-round games this past Saturday.

"They were excited about getting the season started on Friday and we were disappointed that we wouldn't be able to play," said McNabb, the team's second-year coach. "But the postponement gave us an extra day to prepare.

"I think we have a well-conditioned team, so playing two games [in one day] wasn't going to be that much of a challenge, and I thought we responded very well."

McNabb's assessment was borne out by the results as the Knights knocked off DuBois Area, 55-43, on Saturday afternoon. About four hours later, the Knights completed their day-night doubleheader with a 47-23 victory against the host school.

The Knights are 3-0 after defeating Ambridge Area, 56-37, in Tuesday night's non-section game.

They will play their Section 1-AAA opener Friday night against visiting Freeport. Two more section games against Kittanning and Indiana follow.

As if that wasn't enough, the Knights will play a Dec. 23 home game against Hampton, one of the two favorites to win the WPIAL Class AAAA title this season.

Balance keyed the Knights in the opening-round win as Matt Zanella, a 6-foot-4 junior forward, and David Gallagher, a 6-1 senior guard, each scored 15 points against DuBois. Zanella also cleared six rebounds. Stephen Oblich, a 6-4 senior forward, added 12 points.

McNabb said the first-round win taught him a lot about his team's ability to weather a storm.

"We'd taken a 12-point lead, and [DuBois] cut it to five," he said. "And then, [6-0 sophomore guard] Aiden Albert hit a 3-point goal with about five minutes left to give us an eight-point lead. That pretty much sealed the game for us."

Albert, Austin Hannes, a 6-0 freshman, and 5-10 senior Jordan Hickey have taken turns running the point while point guard Austin Miller, a 6-1 senior, has been sidelined with a sprained ankle he sustained in practice.

"Our guys have been resilient, and we were able to win these two games without him," McNabb said. "We're going to be a lot better when he comes back."

McNabb said ankle problems have been an issue for Miller.

"He hurt one ankle in October, and we thought it was broken," he said. "This recent ankle injury was on his other foot. So, he's had a rough time since October. This is eating it up because he wants to play."

For a while, DuBois was content to run a motion offense, testing the Knights' defensive effort.

"They took a lot of time with each possession, but we hunkered down and played good man-to-man defense. Chris Kier and Troy Hicks did a good job on their best players."

Gallagher scored 16 points against Keystone to earn the most valuable player award. Zanella scored 12 points in the championship game, and he was named to the all-tournament team. Defense was again a watchword for the Knights as they held Keystone to just 14 points in the second half.

"This gave us a lot of confidence," McNabb said. "DuBois is a big, Quad-A school and they are well-coached. We didn't know what to expect from them as this was our first game. But we were well-conditioned.

"We gave the guys about two weeks off at the end of last season, and then came back and worked on our skills. The kids were rewarded for the time they put into the program with these two wins. We have a lot more confidence now than we did before these two wins."

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