(Medina's Jalin Cooper battles for a rebound with Newfane's Chad Dunbar/Photo: Cheryl Wertman)
There was a lot of local hype surrounding Friday night's Niagara-Orleans tilt between Medina & Newfane. The two teams came into the season projected to be in a dog fight for league supremacy and each arrived at the game unbeaten in the N-O. With first place on the line, it was the Mustangs who came in playing like they'd been there before.
Jalin Cooper scored a game-high 23 points and Alex Allis came off the bench to bury some big shots, as visiting Medina took a 77-65 win at Newfane. The Mustangs move 4-0 and into sole possesion of first place in the N-O and improve to 6-4 overall. Newfane slips to 7-5 & 3-1 with the loss.
"They're the league champs," Newfane coach Eric Klumpp said. "They've been in that situation, they're comfortable in that situation, and their big time players performed extremely well."
Just over two minutes into the game, it was clear Medina had come to play. They bolted out to an 8-2 lead, prompting a Newfane timeout and tempering a boisterous Blue Zone crowd. Before the two minute mark of the opening quarter, Mason Lewis struck from downtown to give the Mustangs a double digit lead at 16-6, and the visitors were able to build on that before the quarter ended, taking a 21-8 lead after one.
"We had this one marked on our calendar for a long time," Medina coach Tom Forrestel said. "We knew they were stacked coming back and we are the defending champs coming in, so we had a little edge for sure."
Medina's lead reached 16 points just one minute into the second quarter, 24-8, and it seemed like there was the potential for the game to quickly get out of hand. However, a 16-0 run for Newfane that saw Medina go scoreless for over five minutes brought the home crowd to a fever pitch and had Panther fans believing that team had emphatically shaken off its slow start. Max Weber spearheaded the push, scoring 11 of his team-high 21 points over the five minute stretch, including a crazy finish at the rim and an extra deep 3-pointer.
With the game tied 24-24, Medina closed the first half on what may have been the most pivotal portion of the contest. Over the last 1:25 before the break, the Mustangs outscored Newfane 9-2, for a 33-26 advantage. Jalin Cooper netted six of those points, including a crushing 3-point bomb as the buzzer rang.
"That was the biggest two minutes of the game," said Forrestel. "The momentum was all in there favor, so that run was monumental, especially with Jalin (Cooper) hitting that big three at the buzzer."
As much as that run re-energized the Mustangs, it was an equally deflating 90 seconds for a Newfane team that had just fought so hard to get out from under a 16-point deficit.
"All of our energy and focus was on every single play and that was a big turning point," Klumpp admitted.
Picking up right where they had left off, Medina quickly stretched its lead to 40-26 early in the third quarter. Back-to-back 3-pointers from Newfane's Kyle DeVoogel cut the Mustang lead to 42-34 midway through and had the Panthers looking for a couple stops defensively. Instead, another big Medina run would put them in the driver's seat for good.
Izaiah Rhim (11 points) got it started with a score, followed by a bucket from Cooper. But the real sizzle came from Allis over the final three minutes of the frame. The junior, who had just returned from injury, banged three 3-pointers to give his squad a comfortable 57-38 lead, capping a 13-2 run to finish the frame.
"He was huge tonight and he's fresh back," said Forrestel. "We had been playing a little short-handed coming into tonight."
Cooper scored 10 points for the Mustangs over the final quarter to keep Newfane from getting any closer than nine points over the last eight minutes. The junior with a Division I football offer from Toledo was 6/8 from the charity stripe in crunch time.
"I think we just wanted it," said Cooper. "Felt like we got smacked last year by Wilson when they took that one from us and we just wanted it this year."
Medina did a great job of using its size & athleticism to its advantage throughout the game. As a result, they owned a decided advantage in rebounds and were better at scoring in the paint.
"We couldn't keep them off the glass," Klumpp said. "We didn't work hard enough to value the block out."
The rematch is February 9th at Medina. It should be another battle that is well-supported by both schools. Last night's game in the Panther's Den in Newfane was a packed house with a rowdy crowd that gave the game the feeling of a Friday night rivalry game.
"As a team, we just really wanted to keep our composure coming in here," said Cooper.
Forrestel added, "It's great - I personally love playing here because of the atmosphere."
Medina 21 - 12 - 24 - 20 = 77
Newfane 8 - 18 - 12 - 27 = 56
Medina: Jalin Cooper 23, Alex Allis 16, Izaiah Rhim 11, Johnny Salone 9, Tyrellis Atkins 7, Vincent Montague 6, Mason Lewis 3, Trenton Jones 2
Newfane: Max Weber 21, Kyle DeVoogel 11, Drew Boudeman 7, Connor Hill 7, Brandon Gross 6, Chad Dunbar 5, Caleb Russell 4, Sam Kline 4