Through the first half of the 2007-08 regular season, the Henninger boys basketball team had played 10 times without a blemish, knocking off some big foes (like Niagara Falls and CBA) and also sweeping to a second consecutive title at the Mayor's Roundball Classic.
Yet one foe remains elusive to the Black Knights' pursuits.
Utica Proctor, who beat Henninger 50-42 for the Section III Class AA title a season ago, handed the Black Knights its first defeat of the season Tuesday night in a hard-fought 46-40 battle in front of a packed crowd of more than 1,500 in Utica.
This marked the fifth consecutive time Proctor had beaten Henninger, and only adds more intensity when the two sides face off again Jan. 22 on the Black Knights' home court.
Much attention was placed on two players -- Ben Cronin, Henninger's 7-1 center going to the University of Michigan, and Deandre Preaster, the two-time Central New York Player of the year who has led the Raiders to back-to-back sectional titles.
Right away, Henninger's offense found itself out of rhythm, as 3-point shots that had found the net all season went off target (it would hit just two all night), and Cronin got frustrated battling Preaster inside.
Early in the second quarter, Cronin went to the bench with his second foul, and Preaster took over. He scored the Raiders' last 10 points of the half, culminating it with a one-handed dunk, and Proctor led 18-15 at the break.
Both sides sputtered through the third quarter, too, though Henninger caught up and tied it, 28-28, early in the final period.
Here, Desmond Tillery hit a pair of 3-pointers to put Proctor back ahead, and when the Black Knights threatened in the last two minutes, Preaster used consecutive field goals to build his total to 22 points for the night, putting the game away.
Never able to establish himself due to that early foul trouble, Cronin had 10 points, one less than teammate Brian Wilson. Kihary Blue (eight points) and Quanate Elijah (seven points) were close behind.
This came after the Black Knights crushed Fayetteville-Manlius 64-33 in its first 2008 outing, backed by Cronin's total of 17 points, 23 rebounds and seven blocks.