DiBonifazio carries Jim Thorpe
Jim Thorpe's PJ Coleman (left) tries to drive the baseline against Lehighton defender Nate Kresge.
The Jim Thorpe boys' basketball team knows where it wants to be by the end of the season.
A non-league meeting on Saturday night with Lehighton showed the Olympians that they still have a lot of work to do to get there.
That was evident as the Olympians struggled to a 69-62 victory against an Indian team that is also a work in progress.
In a game where there were eight different lead changes, Olympian senior guard Dean DiBonifazio's free-throw gave Jim Thorpe the lead for good and it hung on down the stretch.
"We know we have to get to .500," DiBonifazio said. "We need 11 wins to make the playoffs and that's what we're primarily focused on. We have to learn how to play a full game.
"We have to continue to work hard at practice to get better."
A slow start almost came back to haunt the Olympians.
The Indians' Cordell Wall sparked a 13-4 run to get things started by scoring eight of his team-high 27 points in the paint. But DiBonifazio answered by scoring 10 of his game-high 31 points to make it a new ball game ending the first quarter in an 18-18 tie.
It was PJ Coleman who stole the show in the second period as he scored nine of his 14 points. In doing so, he helped the Olympians go on a 16-2 run that led to a 37-29 lead at half.
In the third quarter, it was Wall and teammate DJ Rossino who sparked two different runs one of 10-5 and one of 6-0 to help the Indians knot the game at 49-49 heading into the final quarter. Wall netted nine more points in the frame while Rossino was a perfect six-for-six at the free throw line.
DiBonifazio didn't waste time again starting the fourth quarter off with his sixth three-pointer to give the Olympians the lead again.
Wall and Rossino pulled the Indians (0-4 overall) into a another tie, but DiBonifazio broke that with 5:12 left in the game. He hit the back end of a free throw to put the Olympians up 54-53.
After that, Coleman hit a reverse layup and Alonzo Gill added a three-point play to help Jim Thorpe build a comfortable lead that they maintained the rest of the way.
"Playing last night and playing tonight back-to-back, it's tough on these kids," Lehighton coach Mike O'Brien said. "They just couldn't get it done for us, but they came darn close. Down the stretch, Jim Thorpe played very disciplined basketball and we got out of sync."
It wasn't the way he wanted his Olympians (2-2 overall) to earn the win, but Brian Carroll won't give it away.
"I don't know how we did it, but I'll take it," Carroll said. "We got to keep getting better. We're not playing smart on the court. We're making bad court decisions. I have to get these guys better as the season progresses because we're far from where we want to be.
"Give Lehighton all the credit in the world though, they came prepared tonight. Their coaches had them fired up considering the way they got knocked down the night before. My hat's off to them. They did everything except win the game."
DiBonifazio 10-5-6-31, Moranta 0-0-0-0, Moore 5-1-2-11, Ciavarella 0-0-0-0, McGill 2-1-1-5, Otto 3-0-2-7, Brown 0-0-0-0, Clark 0-1-2-1, Coleman 5-2-5-14. TOTALS: 25-10-18-69.
A. Rossino 0-0-0-0, D. Rossino 3-11-14-18, Kresge 3-0-0-7, Guyn 0-0-0-0, Scott 0-0-0-0, Wall 12-3-11-27, Sazcska 2-1-4-6, Evans 2-0-0-4. TOTALS: 22-15-29-62.
Jim Thorpe 18 19 12 20 - 69
Lehighton 18 11 20 13 - 62
Three-pointers: JT - DiBonifazio 6, Coleman 2, McGill 1; Lehighton - D. Rossino 1, Kresge 1, Szacska 1.