Thorpe, Mahanoy Area in final
Steve Shinko/TIMES NEWS Jim Thorpe's P.J. Johnson lays up a shot as Marian's Chris Barletta (right) looks over his shoulder.
For Jim Thorpe's Rashid Epps, it was an opening night to remember.
The same, however, can't be said for Panther Valley.
The Panthers, who were hosting their annual Tip-Off Tournament, turned the ball over 24 times against a tough Mahanoy Area defense and dropped a 42-32 decision.
Epps, meanwhile, poured in 21 points and pulled down 19 rebounds to lead the Olympians to an exciting 54-49 victory over Marian in the evening's opening contest.
Thorpe, who won the tourney a year ago, will now defend its title tonight against the Golden Bears at 7:30.
The consolation game will pit PV against the Colts at 6 p.m.
Saddled with four fouls, Epps was forced to watch most of the final quarter from the bench.
But when he got back on the floor in the closing minutes, he made them count.
The junior extended a 50-49 lead with an inside basket with 1:15 left in regulation. At the other end, he grabbed the rebound on Marian's three-point attempt.
After Sam Lux sealed the win with a pair of free throws with 16.8 seconds to play, Epps fittingly hauled in the game's final board.
"It's an incredible feeling," said Jim Thorpe head coach Brian Carroll. "Anytime you can start a season off with a victory, let alone against an arch-rival, is a feather in our cap.
"Different guys stepped up when Rashid got in foul trouble and had to sit a lot of the second half. Once we got the ball in to Rashid, there's not too many guys that can guard him there."
Marian had trouble guarding anyone to start the game. The Olympians, behind eight first-quarter points from Lux, jumped out to leads of 9-0 and 14-2.
But the Colts, who also boast a quality big man in Matt Yaich, battled back.
Yaich hit for six in the second frame and nine in the third as Marian trailed by just a 44-41 margin heading into the final period.
Mick Stefanek's squad eventually tied the contest, 49-49, on Chris Barletta's steal and layup with 2:21 remaining. But the Colts didn't score again, going 0-for-4 from the floor, and didn't have an answer for Epps down the stretch.
"We came out of the blocks tentative and sluggish and got in an early hole," said Stefanek. "We had a good second quarter and got back into the game. The Epps kids is special. He does a lot off the offensive board. We just didn't have a matchup for him.
"We don't have true defensive stopper like we've had in past years. We're going to have find one if we're going to continue to play man. Jim Thorpe really scrapped. They were tough and physical. It was a game of runs and we just came up on the short end."
Besides the 21 points from Epps, Lux finished with 16 and Dean DiBonifazio added eight - including a key three-pointer in the fourth quarter.
For Marian, Yaich had19 points. Barletta chipped in with eight points while Drew Sherkness collected eight rebounds.
Like Jim Thorpe, the Panthers also possess a strong inside presence.
But unfortuately for Pat Crampsie and his Panther Valley team, getting the ball to him proved difficult against a pesky Mahanoy Area defense.
PV's Logan Stano owned the opening quarter as his 10 points and four rebounds helped the hosts gain a 15-13 start.
From then on, the Golden Bears completely shut the door on Crampsie's squad.
Over the final three frames, Mahanoy forced 21 turnovers while the Panthers took only 18 shots.
"Give Mahanoy all the credit in the world, they outplayed us tonight," said Crampsie. "They obviously did a really good job defensively and they got us out of our comfort zone. They forced us into passing lanes that we didn't want to be in and they disrupted our offense big-time.
"They deserved to win the game. But it's game one. We have a lot of new guys and it's going to be a process. We're disappointed with the result but we're going to get better."
Hitting three-pointers can make any team better in a hurry, and Mahanoy managed enough of them to give PV fits.
The Panthers opened with an 11-5 advantage, but a pair of treys from Neal Goodman closed the gap.
Goodman drained another long-distance shot in the third frame and Eric Moucheron added two more in the period as the Bears used a 13-3 frame to take the lead for good.
"I was happy with our shot selection," said MA mentor Mickey Holland. "We knew we couldn't match them shot-for-shot because they were going to get a vast majority of the rebounds. We just had to be patient and get open shots.
"Our kids did a great job of playing paint defense. You have to respect Stano because he's a great player. We were just all over the place on defense."
Stano finished with 15 points and 10 boards while teammate Damien Lewis added 11. For the winners, Goodman ended with 11 and Mike Backo had 10.
Barletta 4-0-1-8, Decker 3-0-0-6, Gimbi 2-0-0-4, Gottstein 1-0-0-3, Lack 0-0-0-0, Yaich 8-2-4-19, Sherkness 2-1-6-5, Fital 2-0-0-4. TOTALS: 22-3-11-49.
DiBonifazio 3-1-3-8, Lux 6-2-2-16, Epps 10-1-5-21, Cinicola 3-1-2-7, Johnson 1-0-0-2, Mickens 0-0-0-0, Richardson 0-0-0-0, Clark 0-0-0-0, Otto 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 23-5-12-54.
Marian 8 17 16 8 - 49
Jim Thorpe 14 13 17 10 - 54
Three-pointers: Marian - Yaich 1, Gottstein 1; Jim Thorpe - Lux 2, DiBonifazio 1.
Moucheron 2-2-2-8, Backo 2-5-7-10, Senglar 2-0-0-4, Wagner 3-0-0-6, Kimmel 1-1-4-3, Goodman 4-0-0-11, Gaval 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 14-8-13-42.
Stanko 0-0-0-0, Ogozalek 0-0-0-0, Matthewson 0-0-0-0, Revell 0-0-0-0, Picht 1-2-2-4, Lewis 4-2-3-11, Mitchell 1-0-0-2, Stano 6-3-3-15, Ahner 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 12-7-8-32.
Mahanoy Area 13 2 13 14 - 42
Panther Valley 15 4 3 10 - 32
Three-pointers: Mahanoy Area - Goodman 3, Maucheron 2, Backo 1; Panther Valley - Lewis 1.