Deandre Preaster won the battle of Central New York's premier big men as his Utica Proctor Raiders held off Ben Cronin and the Henninger Black Knights 66-63 in a Tuesday-night classic on Henninger's own home floor.
With the victory, the Raiders (9-0, 13-1) remain atop the CNYCL National standings and now take a two game lead in the loss column over the second place Black Knights (8-2, 13-2). Utica Proctor has now beaten Henninger six straight times and has the inside track on gaining the top seed for next month's Section III Class AA playoffs.
In a contest that boasted two of Section III's state-ranked teams, it was evident that defense and timely shooting was going to win the game.
Both teams played excellent defense early on. It was clear that Proctor's main game plan was to force the Henninger guards to beat them from the outside rather than giving the Michigan-bound Cronin the chance to hurt them down low.
Both Almir Gredelj and Preaster took turns fronting Cronin and trying to deny him the ball as much as they could. They did a great job of shutting him down in the first half, holding Cronin to just six points.
"The game plan was the same thing as the last time we played - to front Ben," Preaster said. "We helped each other on defense against him (Cronin) and didn't let him score that much. We were very active."
After a low-scoring opening period, the offense picked up for both squads. Proctor relied on the play of Preaster and junior guard Desmond Tillery, while the Henninger guards kept them in the game with their outside shooting.
Every time the Raiders started to get the momentum on their side, the Black Knights would come up with a big 3-pointer to keep the score tight. Henninger made eight of them in the contest, five in the second quarter alone. The game was locked at 34-34 going into halftime.