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Tigers Defend Tournament Title With Late Surge Over Jacks

AMHERST- After their 19-point loss to Bishop Timon on Dec. 16, the Amherst Tigers basketball team had their backs against the wall and were given a challenge by their head coach Chris Kensy. “We had to re-commit to some of the things that we always stress: the 50-50 plays, the toughest plays, the want-to plays,” he said. Tonight, the Tigers made the ‘want-to’ plays down the stretch and won the Bob Hettler Tournament in consecutive years in a 49-45 finish over the North Tonawanda Lumberjacks (6-2 record) on Thursday night, thanks to Jordan Barr’s 8 points off the bench in the fourth quarter. After trailing 24-22 at the half, Coach Kensy emphasized to his team to be more aggressive and to simply play their game. “Their (NT) zone at times dictated our tempo as opposed to us being the aggressor and dictating our own tempo,” he added. “We reeled them back in and talked to them about what we needed to do and we were able to make a few more plays than we did.”

The Lumberjacks had the early edge as contributions from junior Trevor Book and senior Zack Woodard gave them a 13-10 lead after the first quarter. After the game, head coach Ryan Mountain noted how strong his team began the game after their victory against Starpoint the previous night. “We wanted to come out and establish toughness,” he said after the game. “We were the attackers in the first half.” Both teams turned it up a notch in the second quarter as they forced the opposing offenses to earn their baskets. After a three-pointer from NT’s point guard Vinny Tripi followed by a steal and basket from forward Patrick Milbrand (12 points), the Lumberjacks had a 20-14 lead with four minutes remaining in the first half. The Tigers trimmed the deficit to a point after free-throws from senior forward Marcellus Cooper (team-high 14 points) and a three-pointer from fellow senior Richard Kay. The teams then exchanged contributions at the charity stripe to tie the game up at 22 heading into the final minute.

That’s when Milbrand had one of the biggest plays of the game when he drove into the middle of the lane off a pass from his former quarterback, Woodard. The bucket gave NT the edge going into the locker room and Milbrand received high praise from Coach Mountain after the game. “Pat was the difference-maker for us tonight,” Mountain said. “He was hitting the boards and getting steals for us and worked right in the middle of their (Amherst’s) tough zone press.” The Tigers, however, swung the tables once again and went on a 10-3 run in a five-minute span to start the second half. The run began with a boom as Cooper received an alley-oop from shooting guard Will Alfieri (6 points). But after they called a timeout, North Tonawanda swung the pendulum back their way as Milbrand once again attacked inside the paint and Tripi connected on a three-pointer from the volleyball line off a corner pass from Woodard. But in the final seconds, Amherst had the last laugh as Jake Mullen scored his lone basket of the night right in front of the tin to put his team up 34-33.

It was the final stretch of the fourth quarter that sealed the deal for the Tigers as Barr created separation in the middle of NT’s 2-3 zone and scored four baskets in just over a two-minute span, giving them an eight-point lead with just over a minute to play. Coach Kensy described Barr’s effort after the game as being “huge for us.” While the Lumberjacks made a valiant effort in the final seconds, it just wasn’t enough to come away with the victory. “We had the opportunity to steal it on their home court but they made two or three more plays than we did,” Coach Mountain added.

In the loss, North Tonawanda was led once again by Book, who finished with 13 points. Other notable contributors were Tripi and Woodard, who both finished with 6 points apiece, and forward Rory Farkas, who recorded 4 points and 4 rebounds in his second game of the season. Even though the outcome was disappointing, Mountain said that he couldn’t be prouder of the effort that his team gave in the first second half of the season and that they simply have to bring the same mindset as the calendar resets. “The expectation for the rest of the season is the present moment and working our hearts out today to make our team better tomorrow,” Coach Mountain said, whose team will return to action on Jan. 3 to host the Kenmore East Bulldogs. “We’re going to be confident going into the second half of the NFL season (and continue) investing in each other with great leadership, unity and passion.”

As for the host Tigers, other notable contributors were Desean Ashley (9 points) and Da’Shawn Hines (4 points). Heading into the new year, Coach Kensy’s goal is to bring the same type of pressure on the defensive end that his team, now 7-2 on the year, has provided since the opening tip. “If we can continue our defensive pressure, continue to be unselfish and continue to stick to the team plan, I think we could be a very good team by the end of the year.” The Tigers will continue ECIC II play when they host West Seneca East on Jan. 6.

In the consolation game, the Sweet Home Panthers (3-3 record) came out on top over the Starpoint Spartans (1-7 record), 65-57, thanks to double-digit scoring figures from the trio of Darryl Barrons (19 points), Stephon Trueheart (17 points) and Evan John (16 points). The Spartans were led by sophomore guard Justin Mott and senior guard Derek Clemons, who finished with 18 points and 14 points respectively.

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