In just six games, the Cicero-North Syracuse boys basketball team managed to play against three main challengers to its Section III Class AA crown, winning just once.
The last of those three tests came Tuesday night, when the Northstars went to Henninger and led at halftime, only to give up that edge and take a 59-55 loss to the Black Knights.
This was on the same court where CNS had beaten Utica Proctor Dec. 17 in the Peppino's Invitaional. But in the time since, Henninger had beaten CBA (something the Northstars couldn't match on Dec. 21) and won its fifth consecutive Mayor's Roundball Classic.
CNS knew the challenge going in - and for a while, appeared up to it. In the game's first three minutes, two Henninger starters, Tevin Chisholm and Marquies Young, both picked up two fouls.
Zach Coleman appeared headed for another big performance when he scored his team's first seven points. But he managed just a single field goal the rest of the half as Henninger concentrated its defense on him, causing all kinds of frustration.
Still, CNS led, 29-23, early in the third quarter, when its shots started to go off target and the Black Knights went on a 12-2 run to move in front for good, highlighted by Markel Stith's dunk on a fast break.
Not only was Henninger able to quicken the game's tempo, it also continued its defensive clampdown, dominating on the boards and preventing Coleman, who finished with 16 points, and Vaughndell Brantley (who had just five points) from ever finding his rhythm.
CNS trailed 53-42 with 2:15 to play - but it wouldn't quit. Building full-court pressure, and getting key baskets from Elliott Boyce (who finished with 12 points) and Josh Williams, the Northstars went on an 11-3 run, forcing Henninger's Kavon Delee into make three free throws in the last 12 seconds to put the game away.
Delee led both sides with 21 points. Tevin Chisholm got 10 of his 12 points in the second half, while Tommie Spinner had eight of his 10 points after the break and Stith finished with 11 points. Meanwhile, Riley Moonan had 10 points and Williams had eight points for the visitors.