Danny Branch was one of six Pitt-Johnstown players to score in double figures against Penn State-New Kensington on Monday night at the Sports Center as the Mountain Cats blitzed the Division III Lions 103-51 in a nonconference clash.
The lone senior on the UPJ men’s basketball squad, Branch finished with 12 points in the blowout, but it wasn’t just another night on the court for him.
The 6-foot-4 guard from Washington, D.C. passed Steve Scorpion (2002-06) as UPJ’s all-time 3-point leader. Scorpion had 190 treys, and Branch now stands at 191 after hitting a pair of 3-pointers on Monday.
“I feel blessed that I’ve been able to play at this (Division II) level,” the humble Branch said. “I just like to play basketball and enjoy myself. We always stress unselfishness and we all like to score, so we spread the ball around. I don’t even really consider myself a 3-point shooter, I consider myself a slasher. I like to go on the floor and get easy baskets, but I like to shoot 3-pointers, too.”
“I told our guys in the lockerroom, that Danny’s a senior and I remember like yesterday when he was a freshman,“ UPJ coach Bob Rukavina said. “As a freshman, he came into a game and we called it the Danny Branch factor, he came in an hit 3’s right off the bench, and he’s done it his whole career. He set the record and it’s well-deserved. He’s really matured over the last couple years, and he’s being a leader this year. He’s one of the best guards in the conference.”
All 11 Mountain Cats who played scored at least five points, and it was an opportunity for Rukavina to watch many of his younger players in a game situation.
“It was good for a lot of these guys to get in there,” the UPJ coach said. “A lot of time, once league play starts, a lot of these guys aren’t going to get the opportunity to play much.”
Central Cambria graduate Jordan Miller topped the Mountain Cats scoring with 14 points with Patrick Grubbs supplying 13 points and seven rebounds.
Conemaugh Township’s Kevin Byer and Johnstown High School’s Paul Weatherly each contributed 11 points and Noah Hartung chipped in 10.
“The kids are very unselfish,” Rukavina said. “We probably have six or seven guys capable of putting up 20 every night. I tell them it’s going to be someone different every night and to keep sharing the ball and make that extra pass.”
The Lions were led by 14 points from Ta-Wayne Steele and 10 from Daryl Harrington.
UPJ led 37-20 at halftime and despite shuttling in a changing cast of players on the floor in the second half outscored the undermanned Lions 66-31. The Mountain Cats also outrebounded Penn State-New Kensington 48-30.
“They are a Division III school that we play every year, and I live about two miles from the campus, so we should probably go there sometime,” Rukavina said. “In these games, we play hard and we want our guys to get something out of it, and I thought we did. We played good defense and shared the basketball. We were a little sluggish the first half, but in the second half we picked it up.”
Pitt-Johnstown travels to Davis & Elkins, W.Va., for a WVIAC game on Wednesday.
“We won 17 games last year and it was the youngest team I ever had,” Rukavina said. “We only lost two guys and our young guys are a year older, so I think we’re better than we were last year, but the league is the best it’s been since I’ve been here and our schedule is probably the toughest. You have to be ready to play every night or you’re going to lose.”