Perhaps it is nights like this one that will propel the Cicero-North Syracuse boys basketball team from the realm of good, solid contender to that of a champion.
When pushed by Utica Proctor in front of a large home crowd Friday night, the Northstars pushed back, getting a career night from point guard Deyon Smith and solid inside work from Andy Falvey to beat the Raiders 62-53.
With that win, CNS improved to 12-1 on the season, strengthened its hold on first place in the CNY Counties League National division and took a huge step toward a possible top seed for next month's Section III Class AA playoffs.
"This win says a lot about how everyone else views us," Falvey said. "It gives us a lot of respect."
And it wasn't just that CNS won - it was the way it was done, without a big night from its leading scorer, Zach Coleman. Mired in foul trouble, Coleman had just six points before bowing out in the fourth quarter.
More than anyone else, Smith made sure that Coleman's struggles did not prove too damaging. Never yielding in the face of a stiff Proctor man-to-man defense, Smith produced a season-best 20 points and made few mistakes all night.
"Deyon was a man," head coach John Haas said. "He's been steady all year running the team. But we needed him to penetrate and hit some shots, and he did just that tonight."
Only twice all night did CNS trail, at 2-0 and 4-2 in the opening minutes. With the game tied 15-15 late in the first quarter, Vaughndell Bradley and Smith hit on back-to-back baskets in the final 23 seconds, and the Northstars took the lead for good.
Mostly, CNS played a zone defense in the first half, forcing Proctor into jump shots that flew off target, and the Raiders rarely got second shots with the likes of Falvey (who led his team with 21 points) controlling the boards.