BY JEFF FALK
How far will the Lebanon boys’ basketball team go this season? As far as their desire, intensity and defense will take them.
On Saturday evening, the Cedars’ brand of hard-nosed play carried them to the championship of their own tip-off tournament. Backed by their tough ‘D’, the Cedars outplayed Tulpehocekn during crunch time and walked away with a 48-43 victory in the title game.
Tourney MVP Josh Lopez’s banker with 1:15 to go snapped a 39-all deadlock and sent Lebanon on its way. A steal and subsequent lay-in from Josh Spaulding 16 seconds later pushed LHS’ advantage to four points and a pair of Drey Murray foul shots with 42 seconds left made it a 45-39 game.
Now 2-0, Lebanon successfully defended its tip-off tournament title from a year ago. Tulpehocken evened its record at 1-1.
“A win’s a win in my book,” said Lebanon head coach Tim Speraw, “especially early in the season. I would’ve rather have played better, but it’s good how our defense, heart and effort can carry us and win a game for us.
“Going into the season, obviously one of your goals is to win the championship of your own tournament,” Speraw continued. “We accomplished that goal. We didn’t play well. We just scratched out a win.”
“We’re all about hustle,” said Lopez. “If it wasn’t for our defense, we wouldn’t be that great of a team. From the first player to the 12th player on the bench, we’re tough.”
The Cedars held Tulpehocken without a point for a three-minute span late in the third quarter to turn a 23-19 deficit into a 28-23 lead. Spaulding collected six points inside during the 9-0 run, while Lopez connected on a three-pointer.
“They’re very, very hard workers,” said Speraw of his charges. “They give everything they got when they step onto the floor. But the bottom line is we’ve got to play better to win. We have confidence that we can play better.”
“It’s pretty big,” said Lopez of the title. “We were talking about it for weeks. It’s exactly what we wanted.”
Lopez connected on a trio of treys – all in the second half – and finished with 24 points. Spaulding came off the bench to notch a career-high 10 pioints, while Lopez was joined on the all-tournament team by senior point Alex Trautman.
“I’m proud of it,” said Lopez of the MVP award. “It’s a good accomplishment. But it’s just something that happened. Anyone could’ve won it.
“I like to score,” Lopez added. “If I’m open, I’ll shoot it. But everyone contributed.”
“He’s an athletic kid,” said Speraw of Spalding, a 6-3 junior. “He’s still trying to find his way. He’s tall. He’s long. And he’s athletic. He gave us huge minutes. Our bench played great tonight.”
Lebanon got off to a hot start defensively, holding the Trojans to but a single point for the opening 10:07 of the contest and racing out to a 12-1 lead. But Tulpehocken responded with 10 unanswered points and carried a 19-16 edge to the locker room.
“I thought we played pretty well defensively,” said Speraw. “We did a decent job on the big guy (Tulpy’s Tyler Woomer). I thought we did a good job on him in the paint.
“Defense is our number one priority,” Speraw continued. “We’re not going to go out and score 70-80 points. We’ve got to hold teams in the 40s and low 50s to have a chance to win.”
“I knew we’d come out and hustle,” said Lopez. “Those first quarters are what’s getting us the wins. Tonight it was 12-1 and last night (Friday against Palmyra) it was 16-6.”