North Xtra: Knoch-Knoch: Knights are no joke as shut-down defense limits opponents

Brad Everett's High School Basketball Notebook

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The Knoch Knights have been excellent defensively this season.

Actually, no team in the WPIAL has been better.

Knoch is off to one of the best starts in school history. The Knights are 11-2 overall and 5-1 in Class AAA Section 1. A big reason for the success is a tight-fisted defense that has knocked out just about all of its opponents. Heading into the week, Knoch was surrendering a paltry 39.1 points per game, the top mark in the entire WPIAL.

“It’s something we focus on,” second-year coach Ron McNabb said. “I wasn’t real thrilled how we finished last year. We made a concerted effort to get better. I think it started by spending a lot of time in the weight room. We have gotten stronger. We have gotten a lot better on the boards.

“Our guys are really buying into what we sell and how important it is to play good defense. We’ve been doing a great job of keeping the ball out of the paint and, most importantly, a great job of keeping the ball in front of us.”

McNabb said the Knights often spend more than half of their practices working on defense. It’s paid off big time. Take away a 77-38 loss to Class AAAA power Hampton, and the Knights are giving up 35.5 points per game. The Knights have not allowed any other team to score more than 48 points and have limited eight opponents to fewer than 40.

Knoch primarily plays man-to-man defense, but will sometimes throw in a 2-3 zone. The Knights aren’t ones to attack opponents with full-court pressure. Once teams cross mid-court, however, they’re often met with players looking to trap and force turnovers.

Like most good defensive teams, Knoch has a defensive stopper it turns to to lock down an opponent’s top scorer. That assignment goes to senior forward Chris Kier.

“We usually put Chris Kier on their best player,” McNabb said. “He’s about [6 feet 2]. We’re fortunate because he can guard a 6-4 or 6-5 player or a point guard. He’s just very good defensively. He moves his feet really well.”

When Kier needs a rest, the stopper role transfers to 6-2 junior forward Troy Hixson.

Just like they are on defense, the Knights are consistent across the board offensively. No player averages more than 15 points a game, but four players regularly score right around double figures — Kier, 6-1 senior guard Austin Miller, 6-1 senior guard David Gallagher and 6-4 junior forward Matt Zanella.

With the halfway point of section play taking place earlier this week, Knoch will try to finish strong and possibly win its first section title since 2005.

Last season, McNabb’s first, the Knights went 11-11 and won a playoff game for the first time since the 2005 squad did it.

“Our focus [in the offseason] was mainly not on winning, but just getting better,” McNabb said. “But I never expected this. We’re thrilled. The kids are really working hard. They’re really focused. They’re zoned in on working hard down to the finish.”

Hampton survives a scare

When Hampton star Ryan Luther crumbled to the floor with an injury during a practice drill last Tuesday, Talbots coach Joe Lafko feared the worst.

“It made me sick, literally. My stomach didn’t feel so well,” Lafko said following his team’s 62-61 overtime win against North Allegheny a day later.

Lafko was in a more positive mood after the Talbots pulled out the big win without Luther. Even better, it was learned that Luther’s injury wasn’t a break and that it might just keep him out of the lineup for only a week or two. Luther missed three games, including Tuesday’s loss against New Castle, but Lafko said afterward that Luther could play Friday at North Hills.

Like most local schools, Hampton did not have school the day of Luther’s injury due to the temperature hovering around the zero mark for most of the day. The game against North Allegheny — originally scheduled for that day — was postponed, but Lafko still wanted to hold practice. During a two-on-one drill, Luther turned his ankle after stepping on a teammate’s foot.

Lafko said it seemed like everyone wanted to take the blame for the injury.

Said Lafko: “My principal blamed the athletic director for letting us practice. I blamed myself for even calling a practice. And [senior guard] Jack Obringer blamed Ryan because Ryan made a comment that [Ryan] was the only one who didn’t get injured last year. So [Obringer] thought [Luther] jinxed himself.

“There was a lot of blame to go around. That’s the way basketball goes, though. These things are going to happen throughout a season.”

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