League play opened in the NFL on Friday night. North Tonawanda was hosting Niagara Falls, the two teams favored as front runners for the division title. Prior to tip, the referees followed the usual protocol and summoned captains for the two teams to center court. North Tonawanda sent its entire team. Falls did the same. It was a show of unity from both teams. I suspect that before they dispersed, someone took charge of the large gathering and suggested the two play the most defensive game WNY HS Hoops has ever seen, then everyone put their hands in...Defense on three: one, two, three, Defense! I don't know that for sure, but the game certainly played out that way.
North Tonawanda built a second half lead on the visiting Wolverines and then held on for dear life in the final minutes, to come away with major league-opening victory at the Lumber Yard, 42-37. NT improves to 3-0 on the season and more importantly, take the early edge on Falls. The loss drops the Wolverines to 1-2 overall.
The Jacks opened the second half with a 14-3 run to break a major defensive struggle and a one-point game, wide open. The surge gave the Jacks a 28-16 lead, and with the premium placed on scoring in this game, looked like it might be an insurmountable deficit facing Falls.
With five minutes remaining in the game, Zack Woodard scored to keep the Jacks up by 12, 36-24. Moments later, the senior let a 3-pointer go from the left corner and cashed in to give his team its largest lead of the evening, 39-24, with 4:30 left to play. The third quarter run by the Jacks had been maintained and now added to by another three points, and it was almost time for celebration. But not quite.
The Wolverines got the the charity stripe on its next three possessions and connected on all six attempts, four from Tazaun Rose and two from Syquan Ralands. With 1:59 left in the game, Ralands scored in the paint, and Niagara Falls had made up eight points in two minutes, closing the gap to 39-32.
A long range bomb from Jhamir Isom put another dent in the Jacks lead, before Tyler Sanders scored to make it a one possession game with just 37 ticks left on the clock, 39-37. Niagara Falls had come storming back with a frantic charge, good for a 13-0 run in less than four minutes.
But the Wolverines had waited to long to play with desperation and on the Jacks' next inbounds came the play that sealed game. Trevor Book beat a trap and found a wide open Patrick Milbrand running away from the press with a clear path to the hoop. A pair of free throws closed out the scoring for the game and the cause for celebration was now official.
"The hardest working teams are the last to surrender,"North Tonawanda coach Ryan Mountain said. "We were very fortunate to finish the fourth quarter, they really cranked it up. I thought we were the tougher team and I thought we were the more confident team."
Vincent Tripi, who appears to be the team's emotional leader and primary ball handler, scored eight points, dished six assists, and grabbed nine rebounds in the victory.
"It was the hardest game I've ever played in my life and I'm just so happy we came out with a win," Tripi said. "It was defense that won us that game."
Trevor Book also scored eight points and added five rebounds, three steals, & two assists.
The rebounding advantage in the game favored the Jacks, led by Brandon Casterline's nine boards, while Alex Johnson pulled down seven. Woodard also hauled seven boards in, collected six steals, and had five of his seven points late in the game to give his team just enough room to finish.
"We don't like to think of any games ahead of the game we already have, but we've had this game circled on our calendar for a while." Woodard said.
So just how defensive was this game?
- At halftime, the score was 14-13 in favor of the Jacks.
- Niagara Falls scored just seven baskets through the first three quarters and a total of 13 in the game.
- A total of five 3-pointers were made in the game, a combined total from both teams.
- Trevor Book (NT) and Charles Lamar (Falls) led their teams in field goals made. Each hit four shots over the 32 minutes.
- Vincent Tripi & Patrick Milbrand (NT) and Charles Lamar & Tazaun Rose (Falls) were the only players with points in three different quarters.
North Tonawanda: 7/14 FTs, 16 FGs (three were 3-pointers)
Niagara Falls: 13/21 FTs, 11 FGs (two were 3-pointers)
"In my opinion, probably two of the best half court defenses you're going to see at the high school level," said Mountain.
N.T. 9 - 5 - 16 - 12 = 42
Falls 9 - 4 - 7 - 17 = 37
North Tonawanda: Vincent Tripi 8, Trevor Book 8, Zack Woodard 7, Patrick Milbrand 6, Brandon Casterline 5, Jordan Fox 3, Alex Quinn 3, Alex Johnson 2
Niagara Falls: Tazaun Rose 9, Charles Lamar 8, Syquan Ralands 8, Tyler Sanders 6, Devin Sanders 3, Jhamir Isom 3