Without question, the Cicero-North Syracuse boys basketball team was happy to walk away with the championship of its own Holiday Tournament last weekend.
Yet even with that first-place trophy, and even with a record of 8-2 midway through its 2006-07 season, head coach John Haas said he's still looking for perfection.
"It's a good start," he said. "But we still need to work on some little things."
And those "little things" nearly kept the Northstars from getting out of the tournament's opening round last Friday night.
Expected to handle Bethlehem, a Section II school from the Albany suburbs, CNS instead needed every bit of work to get past the Eagles in a 67-65 decision.
All through the first half, the two sides exchanged baskets in an even manner. The Northstars did not make its big move until the third quarter, when it outscored Bethlehem 20-13 to build a 50-43 advantage.
But the Eagles made one more charge, closing to within a field goal of overtime before CNS could hang on -- and breathe.
Laquan James paced the winning side with 18 points. Close behind him, Pat Corbin had 14 points, while Steve Jensen worked inside to get 12 points. Chad Armstrong had seven points. Jon McCormick and Shawn Moonan earned six points apiece.
Now the Northstars had to deal with New Hartford in Saturday's final. The Spartans came in with its own 8-2 mark, having just handed Fayetteville-Manlius its first defeat of the season in the opening round in a 75-67 decision where it held star forward Pat Lee to just 10 points.
It turned into a tense and exciting title game, but it was the Northstars that led throughout the second half and pulled through, beating the Spartans 75-64.
At one point in the second quarter, New Hartford enjoyed a 23-15 lead. But CNS made what proved to be a decisive move late in the period, pulling within one before Jensen's short jumper hung on the rim, then fell to beat the buzzer and give the Northstars a 28-27 edge at the break.