The Golden Eagles had their toughest time against the Bulldogs, 70-63.
By JOE SCALZO
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
SALEM -- They say it's tough to beat a team three times in a season, but United High boys basketball coach Herman Miller doesn't buy it.
"I believe that if you're the better team, you should win all three," he said.
The Eagles did -- but not without one final scare.
East Palestine trimmed a 15-point fourth quarter deficit to three, but couldn't get any closer as United held on for a 70-63 victory in the Division III sectional tournament at Salem High on Monday night.
The Bulldogs trailed 59-44 with four minutes remaining -- their biggest deficit of the game -- then went on a 14-2 run over the next three minutes to make it 61-58. But United hit 9-of-12 free throws to seal the game.
"Our kids just showed a no-quit, I-won't-give-up-attitude," East Palestine coach Jeff Berger said. "They fought to the end."
Added Miller, "They battled back. They've had a rough season and they're down by 15 points, it would have been easy to pack it in."
Leading the way: United senior Devan Peters scored 21 points and added 10 rebounds. Junior Grant Cope had 19 points and seven rebounds and Travis Wallace added 10 points, including eight in the fourth quarter.
The Eagles (14-7) had been holding teams under 50 points for much of the season, Miller said. They've given up an average of 67 points in the past five games.
"For whatever reason, our defense has been in a little slump," he said. "[East Palestine] hit their shots tonight. Some of that has to do with us leaving them open and some has to do with our having a hand in their face and they hit the shot anyway."
Junior Chad Jones led East Palestine (5-16) with 25 points. Senior Anthony Thompson had 17 points, including four 3-pointers, eight rebounds and nine assists. Freshman Brett Young had 15 points, with four 3-pointers, and five rebounds.
"We had a few answers," Berger said. "But we had to play zone against them and they have some good outside shooters. When you play zone, you hope you can just keep scoring with them."
East Palestine took a 17-13 lead after the first quarter.
"We certainly came out a little flat," Miller said.
United came back to take a 28-27 halftime lead. The Bulldogs then hit just 6-of-19 shots in the third period, but four were 3-pointers, to extend their lead to 42-36 after three.
United was 24-for-60 from the field (40 percent) and hit 16-of-22 at the line. East Palestine was 24-for-62 from the field and 7-of-12 at the line.