Tripi's 3-pointer to give the Jacks the win misses at the buzzer
By David Yarger
The Niagara Falls High School Wolverines survived a comeback from the North Tonawanda High School Lumberjacks, in front of a loud crowd at the "Wolvearena" on Friday. The 52-50 win gives the Wolverines a season-split, as the Jacks won the first outing by a 42-37 score.
The Wolverines were up as much as 18 points at one point, but the Lumberjacks battled to get it to a 2-point game. That's as close as it would come.
By halftime, the game seemed like it was going to be a runaway for the Wolverines, with the score 34-19. But the Lumberjacks showed why they're at the top of the Niagara Frontier League in the second half, coming out in the third quarter and outscoring the Wolverines 18-11 to cut the lead to 8.
NT's Trevor Book got hot in the second half, draining big shots to cut into the Wolverines lead. He finished with 18 points on the night. Coach Ryan Mountain said his points were big, but it was his defense that played a real factor.
"It's not how many you score, it's when you score," Mountain said. "Ultimately, he made the shots when he needed to and he redeemed himself, because he had some opportunities, some open looks that he usually knocks down. But, ultimately, his defense helped us get back in the game."
Book's and-one play off a tremendous layup cut the Wolverine lead to 4 with 3:26 remaining, 51-47.
With 2:37 left in the game, the Jacks were called for a technical foul, which means two free throws, and possession of the ball. The Wolverines could only muster one point out of it all, and the lead was 52-49.
There were fouls back-and-forth all night, and, after a Lumberjack free throw, Tazaun Rose went to the line looking to ice it with 16.6 second left. With the score reading 52-50, Rose missed the first of a one-and-one, and NT came down with one more chance to tie or take the lead.
Out of a timeout, Lumberjack Vincent Tripi took an open 3-point shot with two seconds remaining to try and give his team the win. It missed by inches. The rebound was grabbed by the Wolverines to seal the win, 52-50.
Mountain said he had confidence in the shot when it was released.
"We had the play pre-determined; it was all planned." Mountain said. "We ran our normal break, and I almost called one (timeout) when it got ugly. I saw Vinny open up with an outstanding look and it was just maybe an inch short."
NT's Zack Woodard contributed 13 points and, as Mountain said, was "the heart and soul" of the comeback attempt.
The Wolverines dodged 21 turnovers on the night - and overcame being outscored 31-18 in the second half - to survive and cause a logjam at the top of the NFL. With the win, three teams are now in a tie for first place at 7-2: Niagara Falls, NT and Grand Island.
Jhamir Isom led the way for the Wolverines with 13 points, while Rose chipped in 10. The Wolverines had eight different players score.
After the game, coach Sal Constantino said his team needs to take better care of the ball, and players need to not get down on themselves when teams make a run on them.
Both coaches agreed the first half was the biggest difference from the first time these two teams met.
Mountain said he believed the Wolverines got off to a great start.
"They unquestionably played a better first half, and we got down 18 points. And if that wouldn't have happened, I believe we would've won this game," he said.
Constantino agreed. He said the team made a concerted effort to focus on its up-tempo offense.
"In the first half, we made an effort to get the ball out and to run at all costs via makes or misses." he said. "In the second half, we made some shots. The first game we were 10-52 shooting. If we're going to be 10-52 every game, then we're not going to win any games."
Constantino also gave credit to his defense. He if he had to pick a possession at the end of the game, he'd want to be on defense, because he feels his team is better defensively.
For the Lumberjacks, the loss drops them to 10-3 overall. Their next game is against Niagara-Wheatfield at home at 7 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 27.
For the Wolverines, the win gets them back to the top of the NFL. They are 8-4 overall, and their next contest will be on the road against Kenmore West at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 26.