With 3 minutes, 51 seconds left in Friday’s season opener between Plum and Fox Chapel, Mustangs senior Lamar Whiting drained a 3-pointer to give his team a five-point advantage.
The Foxes took control from there.
With a strong final push defensively and from the free-throw line, Fox Chapel used a late 13-2 run to overtake Plum, 46-40, at the Plum Tip-Off Tournament.
“We were confident the whole way, even down six a couple of times,” Fox Chapel coach Zach Skrinjar said. “The guys made some shots when they needed to. There was no panic out of our guys. They are strong defensively, and we knew things could work in our favor if we kept getting stops.”
Plum forced a turnover shortly after Whiting’s 3-pointer and attempted to put the game away.
But the Foxes defense got a stop of its own, and Arnold Vento drained a 3 to cut the Mustangs lead to 38-36 with 3:04 to go.
A Plum giveaway and a lay-in from Vento tied the score at the 2:47 mark.
Fox Chapel’s final eight points came from the free-throw line. Sam Brown hit four in a row from the charity stripe to put the Foxes in the lead at 42-38.
After Plum’s Chase Fink recorded a bucket to cut the deficit to two with 25 seconds on the clock, Ryan Kerr and Noah Marks each drained two free throws to seal the victory.
The trips to the foul line surrounded a coast-to-coast rush from Whiting that resulted in a missed layup.
Brown was 5 of 6 from the line in the fourth, and he finished with a team-best 13 points. Kerr added 11 for the Foxes.
“We’ve been battling every day, and it’s good to get against new competition,” Brown said of facing the Mustangs. “It’s always good to play against Plum, and it was a nice feeling to get the ‘W.’ ”
Fox Chapel hit 9 of its 13 free throws in the fourth quarter.
“Every foul shot is critical,” Skrinjar said. “Down at the end, there might be a little more riding on them. But I thought our guys were pretty calm, cool and collected. Those are situations that we practice. I was confident those guys were going to step up and knock them down when we needed them.”
Plum, hoping for better things this season after a tough 2017-18 campaign, got a game-best 15 points from Whiting.
Matt Carroll also delivered a 3-pointer for the Mustangs in the fourth, and he finished with nine points.
Plum jumped out to an early 7-2 advantage and led by as much as six points on several occasions in the second and third quarters but was unable to extend it past a half-dozen.
“We want the guys to understand how to play with a lead, whether it’s six points or one point,” Plum coach Hart Coleman said. “What are the things we need to do to sustain it? Because it’s different this year. We played uphill a lot last year.
“A lot of the turnovers we had tonight, especially down the stretch, were aggressive turnovers. But they were unnecessary. We were going where there was nowhere to go.”
Fox Chapel was held off the scoreboard for the first 3:48 of the second quarter and trailed 17-11, but a 9-2 run put the Foxes ahead by one.
The lead was short-lived, however, as Plum’s Ian Dryburgh put back a rebound to beat the first-half buzzer.
“Our offense just wasn’t clicking like we felt it could, and we missed some easy looks. Others were more contested,” Skrinjar said. “That happens in early basketball games. Plum was ready to go on their home floor. But we played well defensively, and holding a good team to 40 points, it was a big thing for us.”
Fox Chapel turns its attention to Saturday’s 1 p.m. game against Pine-Richland, No. 1 in the Tribune-Review preseason Class 6A rankings.
“It’s a new season and a new beginning,” Skrinjar said. “A lot of the guys might not have that varsity experience, but they got some (Friday). Games are different than practices or scrimmages. They faced some adversity, but they responded well.”
Plum will host Gateway at 2:30 on Saturday.
“We need to think about what we could’ve done a little bit better (against Fox Chapel) and come right back and be ready to go against Gateway,” Coleman said.
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at 412-388-5825, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @MLove_Trib.