By Matthew Digiacomo
Watching film of the Strong Vincent boys basketball team had to have an eerie feeling of déjà vu for Meadville head coach Norm Price.
The Colonels are very similar to the teams the Bulldogs have already encountered this season. In fact, a quick look at the common opponents really gives an idea of just how similar they are.
Vincent split a pair of games — winning at home and losing on the road — with East. The win was a solid 80-60 decision. Meadville also played East this year, winning 85-67.
There are other common opponents. Both teams lost to McDowell by about 10 points. MASH beat Central Tech by one, while Vincent lost by one.
“I think we are going to be pretty evenly matched,” said Price. “Both teams have come through tough regions. In the playoffs every game is competitive anyway. Just have to do the best you can and hopefully come out with a win.”
Price said Vincent really reminds him of Sharon.
That could be good or bad. The Bulldogs beat the Tigers at home 81-74. However, when the team traveled to Sharon it was almost a complete reversal with the Tigers winning 81-75.
“It’s funny, because when I watched the tape I thought, ‘this is going to be pretty similar to a Region 5 game,’” said Price.
The key for Strong Vincent is Malquan Pullium.
A 5-foot-11 senior guard, Pullium is the focus of the Vincent offense. He is averaging 16.9 points per game this season, the only Colonel to average in double figures. Price compares him to Khalil Hopson of Sharon.
“The Pullium boy is a very good player,” said Price. “And (Strong Vincent) fills in around him very well, much like Sharon does with Hopson.”
Pullium does have help in 6-4 senior Demarcus Cleckley (9.1 ppg.) and 6-1 senior Brandon Coleman (8.8 ppg.), but the team goes as Pullium goes.
Meadville was a lot like that in the beginning.
Zak Price started out as the focus of the offense. The senior scored 20-plus points in nine of the team’s first 11 games. But starting with the Jan. 15 game against Grove City, teams began to shift the way they played the Bulldogs.
GC started the trend by playing a box-and-one, holding Price to six points after he averaged 25.1 the previous nine games. Other teams followed suit and the ’Dogs’ guard broke 20 just twice the rest of the year. Price still completed the regular season averaging 18.0 points per game, but the offense no longer revolved around him.
“Zak got on that roll where he averaged 20 points in nine straight games,” said coach Price. “Teams are not going to let you do what you do best in league play. So we needed other players to step up.”
Trevor Clune, Jason Clune and Donte Hollingsworth all took their turn.
Over the final 11 games, one of the three scored 20 points eight times. That is a big reason why, with Price being held in check, the Bulldogs were able to go 7-4 down a very tough homestretch.
“Trevor especially stepped up and destroyed that idea (of shutting down Zak Price),” said coach Price. “He became a legitimate 20-point scorer.”
Trevor Clune, a 6-4 senior, averaged 14.6 points for the ’Dogs, while 5-10 senior Hollingsworth came through with a 13.3 ppg average. And Jason Clune, just a freshman, scored 9.9 points per outing and really stepped up down the stretch. After averaging 8.1 points in the first 11 games, the 6-3 forward scored at a 12.5 ppg clip in the team’s final 11 games.
It is those numbers that have Price excited about the playoffs.
“Donte is really coming into his own after an up-and-down season,” said Price. “And Jason has become a major threat as well.”
If there is one down side it is the absence of Malik Anderson, who is ineligible.
Anderson is the team’s top defensive player. A loss like that could devastate some teams, but Price was only slightly concerned.
“Malik is our best defender and would have been on Pullium,” said Price. “But we have missed players off and on all season, giving other players a chance to step in and contribute. Faizon McClure will take Malik’s place in the lineup and allow us to play almost exactly how we want.
“(Faizon) is just a sophomore, but if you look at it, he was almost always on the floor in the fourth period. So he has seen plenty of action in critical situations.”
A win today gets the Bulldogs two more games no matter what.
Tip-off for tonight’s game is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Slippery Rock’s Morrow Field House. The contest will be followed by the Hickory versus East game at 8 p.m.