Lincoln Park cashes in on free throws in PIAA 3A semifinal
March 21, 2017 12:00 AM
Stephanie Strasburg / Post-Gazette
Lincoln Park's Nelly Cummings hit 23 of his 24 free throws, finishing with 30 points.
By Mike White / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Like the WPIAL championship loss two weeks ago, prolific scorer Nelly Cummings was again having trouble making shots against Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic’s zone defense. Heck, he was having trouble getting shots, as one of the leading scorers in WPIAL history attempted only six in the first half.
So with his Lincoln Park team struggling, down by 11 points in the third quarter of Monday night’s PIAA semifinal, Cummings didn’t lay things on the line. He toed the line.
Cummings went to the foul line again, and again, and again.
And he made free throws again, and again, and again.
Cummings, a senior guard, made 23 of 24 free throws for the game, including 20 of 21 in the fourth quarter. His charity-stripe work brought Lincoln Park back and pushed the Leopards to a 54-46 victory against North Catholic in a Class 3A semifinal at Ambridge High School.
The win puts Lincoln Park (25-5) into a PIAA title game for the fourth time in seven years.
Cummings, a 5-foot-11 Bowling Green recruit who averages 27 points, finished the game with 30 points, making only 3 of 11 shots from the field. He moved into sixth place on the WPIAL all-time scoring list with 2,374 points, just two away from legendary Don Hennon, a 1955 Wampum graduate.
It only seemed like 1,000 of Cummings’ points came from the free-throw line against North Catholic.
“Yes, I was surprised they kept fouling him, but we kept getting him the ball, too,” said Lincoln Park coach Mike Bariski.
Every time, Cummings went through his free-throw routine. Rub the ball. Two dribbles. Set. Shoot.
“A lot of times I’ll shoot 100 free throws before school, 100 midday and 100 at night,” said Cummings. “I can shoot free throws.”
Boy, does North Catholic know it. The Trojans (25-5) took a 31-20 lead with 3:44 left in the third quarter. Twenty-seven seconds later, Cummings made his first two free-throws. It was a sign of things to come.
The rest of Lincoln Park’s team took only eight shots in the second half. Freshman Tanner Mathos came off the bench and scored two big baskets.
Cummings scored the final 20 for the Leopards from the line.
North Catholic fouled Cummings once on a 3-pointer and he made all three free throws to give Lincoln Park a 37-34 lead. North Catholic missed some shots to allow Lincoln Park to extend its lead and the Trojans couldn’t keep Cummings from getting the ball. When Cummings gave it up, North Catholic couldn’t deny him from getting it back.
“We were over a barrel,” said North Catholic coach Dave Long. “The clock was ticking and we knew Cummings was going to get the ball. We lost our point guard [Isaiah Wilson] to fouls and that put a different spin on things. You’re telling people to deny him the ball, don’t foul him and foul someone else. But you’re talking about kids who for the most part executed and followed game plans to a T the entire year. I’m not going to throw them under the bus now.”
A 3-pointer by North Catholic’s Zach Offi cut Lincoln Park’s lead to 45-44 with 1:18 left. After a Cummings free throw, Kenny Fukon missed a shot to tie the score. Cummings then hit two free throws to put the Leopards ahead by four with 54 seconds left.
Fukon led North Catholic with 16 points. Offi had 11.
“I wouldn’t say we were worried when we were down 11,” said Cummings. “It was more like if we were going to go, it was time to do it.”
Obviously, he meant go to the free-throw line.
Mike White: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @mwhiteburgh.
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