As Marquis Brown goes, so goes Pleasant Valley.
And Tuesday night against Lehighton, it went extremely well for the 6-4 center.
The junior big man first dominated the paint in the second quarter to bring his team back from an early 13-point deficit. Later he made his presence felt down the stretch with some huge offensive rebounds and putbacks to help the Bears hang on for a hard-fought 55-50 Mountain Valley Conference victory.
"He was really finishing around the rim," said PV head coach Ken Piontkowski. "Give his teammates credit too. They were looking for him and we've been trying to emphasize getting him the ball inside when he's open.
"The way we start, that sometimes how he starts. I don't know what it is. It was great, though, the way he finished."
The Bears (7-6; 2-2) held a 35-33 advantage entering the fourth quarter. But thanks to a couple of follow-ups, a pair of free throws and a driving basket, Brown extended the margin to six points with three minutes left to play. Lehighton, however, rallied behind five made foul shots four from Jordan Knappenberger to close the gap to 48-47 with just over a minute remaining.
Once again, though, it was Brown to Pleasant Valley's rescue. He grabbed a loose ball after a missed shot and converted inside. Later, with 20 seconds to go, his offensive rebound off a missed free throw led to two more points that helped seal the victory.
"He hurt us in the second quarter," said Indian mentor Rich Oertner. "They got the ball into him there.
"The game kind of came down to the fact they got a couple offensive rebounds on foul shots. If we can't take care of boxing out on foul shots ... that's a fundamental that just can't happen."
Brown, who averages 16 points per game in his team's wins and 9.2 in their losses, finished with 11 rebounds (five offensive) and a season-high 22 points.
But in the early going, he was pretty much non-existent.
Lehighton's defense forced six turnovers in the opening quarter while a balanced attack on offense allowed the host team to race to a 17-6 lead.
Anthony Rossino opened the second quarter with two free throws to stretch the margin to 13 points.
"We got off to a good start," said Oertner. "We moved the ball around and got some good shots. I think we caught them off guard a little bit. They tried to be aggressive and we got some backdoor layups on them."
The Bears, who tried to trap a bit in the opening period, fell back to strictly man defense the rest of the way and it payed dividends.
Pleasant Valley allowed just three field goals in the two middle frames. Brown, meanwhile, dumped in 10 points during the second quarter to aid his team trimming the halftime deficit to 26-24.
"Once we went back to solid man-to-man defense I think possession by possession we started asserting our control a little bit," said Piontkowski. "Lehighton always plays their rear-ends off against us and they did it again tonight. It got dicey at the end. We had a questionable shot down the stretch but Marquis ended up getting the ball in his hands and converting and that was a huge play."
It was also huge that the Indians (5-6; 2-3) suffered mightily from the floor against that man defense.
"I'm sure their gamplan is to play a lot of guys on to play a lot of guys on defense and pound away at us thinking we're going to eventually run out of gas," said Oertner. "And we did run out of gas.
"We just didn't shoot the ball well again. We hit only one three-pointer in a lot of attempts. And a lot of them were wide-open shots. If you do that you're not going to win. We're not shooting the ball well and I don't know how to get over that hump except to shoot our way out."
The Bears also received 10 points from Devon Howard. The Tribe's Knappenberger hit for 21 points while teammate James Farano added nine.
Brown 9-4-7-22, Howard 3-4-6-10, Hosier 1-0-0-3, Deegan 0-0-0-0, Sharpe 1-0-0-2, Hrbek 2-3-4-8, Jones 3-1-2-7, Robinson 1-0-0-3, Neubert 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 20-12-19-55.
Rossino 2-2-2-6, Farano 2-5-6-9, Crum 0-2-2-2, Thompson 0-2-4-2, J. Knappenberger 5-10-11-21, Mele 2-0-0-4, Nalesnik 3-0-5-6. TOTALS: 14-21-30-50.
Pleasant Vy. 6 18 11 20 - 55
Lehighton 17 9 7 17 - 50
Three-pointers: Pleasant Vy. - Hrbek 1, Hosier 1, Robinson 1; Lehighton - Knappenberger 1.