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Niagara-Wheatfield rallies versus Depew
By David Yarger
Down four points with just over a minute remaining; the Niagara-Wheatfield Falcons boys basketball team’s hopes of extending its win streak to five seemed bleak.
Like many times this season – when the Falcons have been down late, the team continues to scratch and claw back into the game, and that’s what happened Tuesday night.
The Falcons defeated the Depew Wildcats 79-72 inside the Niagara-Wheatfield gymnasium.
The non-league contest looked as if it would be a runaway for the Falcons in the beginning, as N-W jumped out to a 10-0 lead, including three buckets by Raejaun Smith from assists by Davon Ware.
The Wildcats clawed back, though, with a 15-4 run to take the lead.
A bucket by Roman Wright gave the Falcons a 16-15 lead after one quarter.
Ware was the story Tuesday night, as the senior guard nailed back to back 3-pointers to start the second quarter. Then, down 32-30, Ware notched three straight 2-point field goals to make it 36-32.
The Falcons finished the quarter on a 15-3 run to lead at the half, 43-35.
In the third quarter, five of the Wildcats’ eight field goals were 3-pointers, which helped the team cut the Falcons lead to 60-56.
Smith and freshman TJ Robinson added five points in the third frame, while Ware and Zach Stanley netted 4 and 3 points, respectively.
Down 63-59, Depew embarked on a 9-0 run to take over, 68-63.
The Falcons, behind a Stanley free throw and two buckets by Ware, came back to tie it, but the Wildcats answered with four straight points to lead 72-68 with just over a minute to play.
From there, though, the Wildcats scoring was finished.
Ben Salomon sunk a clutch layup and the foul shot to cut the Depew lead to one.
After a stop, Ware pulled up from near the elbow and drained a his 29th of 31 points – the eventual game-winner for the Falcons.
After causing a turnover on the next possession, Ware was fouled and made both free throws, then Robinson got a steal and drove to the hole for two. Smith put the finishing touches with two shots from the stripe, sealing the Falcons’ fifth straight victory, 79-72.
Along with Ware’s 31 points and 10 assists, Smith finished with 18 points and 17 rebounds; Robinson scored 13; and Stanley, Salomon and Wright added 6, 5 and 4 points, respectively.
The five-game win streak is the Falcons’ longest in over 10 years, and coach Erik O’Bryan said he enjoys seeing the hard work and chemistry coming together to result in wins.
“They’ve come in a little bit more resilient,” O’Bryan said. “(In the past) we would’ve crumbled big time. I’m very impressed the way they’ve handled things. We have nine new faces and we struggled early on with that.”
After a loss on Dec. 18 at Newfane, O’Bryan said the team had, what he described as a “pow wow,” where the team really looked themselves in the mirror. Since then, the team is 6-2.
“I thought it was really good for our team and we’ve really grown since then. … I would say the seniors have taken a little bit more of a leadership role for us – Rae, Davon, Zach, Roman, Cam Miller. … I think it took us a little time to find that chemistry and, from what I hear, the chemistry in the locker room is the best it’s been in years,” O’Bryan said.
Ware, coming off a big game, said the team’s streak starts with how it practices.
“I think it starts with our intensity in practice,” Ware said. “I feel like we really get after each other in practice and that’s translating on the court in these wins.”
Of his 31-point performance, Ware said, “It felt pretty good. I just felt like I was in rhythm, so I kept going with it. I looked up to my teammates looking for me and it made it easier.”
O’Bryan added of Ware, “As I’ve learned over the last three, four years, I gotta trust him, sit back and let him do his thing at times. … The good outweighs the bad a lot more this year. … I gotta be all in with him and that’s what we are. I would say tonight the good outweighed the bad.”
Since the game versus Newfane, the Falcons have played three non-Niagara Frontier League foes and won them all. The non-league schedule continues Wednesday at Maryvale. Both Ware and O’Bryan said playing talent out of conference is a helper for future games.
“It gives us a chance to kind of prepare and get ready for the league games, and kind of give us a break, but still play good competition, (and) well-coached teams,” Ware said.
O’Bryan added, “These non-league games are important. They set the tone for the final run at the NFL – you don’t wanna come through these playing poor.”
Ware, O’Bryan and the Falcons travel to Maryvale for a 7:30 p.m. battle with the Maryvale Flyers, Wednesday.