Even on a night when it wasn't firing on all cylinders, the Mahanoy Area boys basketball team proved it was still tough to beat.
The Golden Bears kept their undefeated season intact with a 33-26 win over Schuylkill League rival Marian Catholic in a game that proved to be a defensive struggle for both teams.
The win moved Mahanoy's record to 6-0 this season, but coach Mickey Holland was quick to admit there remains plenty of room to improve.
"A win is a win down here. And it was a huge win," the coach said. "But I don't think we played particularly well. I thought Marian played very well tonight.
"There were times that things didn't go our way, but we still hung in there well enough to win, so I'm happy about that."
The Golden Bears started strong, opening up a 10-3 lead after the first quarter, holding the Colts (1-5) to just one field goal.
But Marian flipped the script in the second quarter, outscoring Mahanoy 6-3 on the strength of two Jake Paluck three-pointers to cut the deficit to 13-9 heading into the break and putting the game up for grabs.
"When you walk into halftime with only nine points, it can seem like a debacle," said Marian coach John Patton. "But when you've only given up 13…we were in the game and we were able to hold it together."
Mahanoy was able to extend its lead to 29-19 after the third quarter, as sharp-shooting Larry McNeil scored eight points on the strength of two three-pointers. Brian Miller and Tyler Cavenas also chipped in eight points apiece.
But the Colts' zone defense once again put the clamps on the Golden Bears typically high-powered offense, not allowing a field goal in the fourth quarter.
The 33-point performance was Mahanoy's lowest of the season, and 23 points below its 56.8 average.
"During the last couple of days at practice, we've talked about being more active in the zone," Patton said. "We knew we had to make them take jump shots and then we needed to rebound the ball. We did a lot of that.
"I've been here for a long time and this was one of the best 'team' games I've seen a Marian team play. We were really happy with it. Certainly not happy with a loss, but this was a game where we had a chance. We're still young, but we're taking steps in the right direction and I thought this was a complete game for us."
Holland spoke highly of his counterpart and the Colts' performance afterwards.
"I thought John Patton did a tremendous job of preparing his team tonight. I think John out-coached me tonight, I really do," Holland said. "We're pretty good against zone (defenses), but it just seems like we got a little bit tentative against it tonight. We were too mechanical, and that's not like us.
"This was a huge game (for us) and maybe I had them too tight."
Anthony Agosti paced the Colts with a game-high nine points, including five in the second half. Dominic Mussoline chipped in with five points, including one three-pointer.
"Obviously, games before Christmas for us are tough," Patton said. "We always talk about where we're going to be when we get to the meat of our season. We still have 16 games left and a lot of league games left. We're looking to build on this as we head into a big weekend with Shenandoah Valley on Friday and Panther Valley on Saturday."
Richmond 1-1-2-4, Yedsena 0-0-0-0, McNeil 3-0-0-8, Mahmod 2-0-0-5, Miller 3-2-2-8, Cavenas 3-2-3-8, Kuzma 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 12-5-7-33.
Vercusky 0-2-4-2, N. Agosti 0-0-0-0, Kuczynski 2-0-0-4, Mussoline 2-0-0-5, Swetz 0-0-0-0, A. Agosti 2-5-8-9, Wesner 0-0-0-0, Paluck 2-0-0-6. TOTALS: 8-7-12-26.
Mahanoy 10 3 16 4 - 33
Marian 3 6 10 7 - 26
Three-pointers: MA - McNeil 2, Richmond 1; MC - Paluck 2, Mussoline 1.