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O’Brien: Young Providence-St. Mel knocks off Manley

Manley senior Lamar Crenshaw averages 27 points, he’s one of the top scorers in the state. The undersized guard managed to get a clean look at the end of the game on Wednesday. He was a little off-balance, but the shot arced high and clean.

“My heart was racing when the ball was in the air,” Providence-St. Mel’s Tyriel Nelson said.

“I prayed for it to not go in, I really did,” Providence-St. Mel junior Ahmari Dantzler said.

The shot rimmed out, so the Knights held on to win 51-48 over Manley in a Class 2A regional semifinal game at Orr.

Crenshaw finished with 23 points, but was held to just seven in the second half. Providence-St. Mel coach Tim Ervin had several different players face guarding Crenshaw and Manley guard Dandray Jackson in the final two quarters. The plan worked brilliantly.

“I saw they were frustrated with it and that made me go harder,” Nelson said.

Nelson, a freshman, drained two free throws with 11 seconds left to help seal the win.

“I was in that position earlier this season and I didn’t make them,” Nelson said. “This time I was just thinking about winning.”

Manley led by eight at the half. The defensive switch helped slow the Wildcats down and Dantzler took over on the offensive end for the Knights, scoring nine of his 13 points in the second half.

“We just slowed it down in the second half and made a point to feed the post,” Ervin said. “That was the original game plan, but we got a little out of whack and were in a hurry too much.”

Dantzler, a 6-8 junior, had a game-high 12 rebounds. He’s the one of the few upperclassmen playing for Providence-St. Mel (9-19).

“Sometimes they depend on me and I’m not there but this time I stepped up,” Dantzler said. “We have a lot of talent so we might as well bring it up now.”

Tim Ervin II, Nelson, 6-6 Kameron Leonard and 6-8 Taeyon Neal are all freshman that play significant minutes or start for the Knights.

“It’s been a rollercoaster,” Ervin said. “We’ve had some good games and had some bad games. We went through a couple of tough stretches but one thing about these kids is they kept a good attitude and have been playing hard all season. This was our first year in the Catholic League, we took our lumps but it prepared us for this. The freshmen are no longer freshman now.”

The Knights will face Orr in the regional final on Friday.

Crenshaw hasn’t received any attention this season, but he’s a dynamite scorer and shooter. He’s an academic qualifier looking for a college.

“I call colleges about him every day and they tell me they already have a small guard,” Manley coach Kenyon Gamble said. “I played pro basketball and have connections there, I could probably get him a job overseas easier than finding him a college.”

Crenshaw has been focused on the season. He led the Wildcats (16-9) to the Blue-West title.

“It was a great season for me,” Crenshaw said. “We accomplished a lot of our goals, now I just need to find a spot in college.”