Dec 29, 2012 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
In the decade-long history of the Cicero-North Syracuse boys basketball team’s Holiday Classic, it had never met its main rival – and after Friday night’s events, might not want to do so again.
Liverpool came into the Northstars’ gym and survived a close, tense battle to prevail 67-62 in overtime and take the first-place trophy from the hosts, who won it each of the last two years.
This is getting to be a habit for the Warriors. Except for its Dec. 11 loss to Utica Proctor, it has not only beaten everyone else en route to a 5-1 start, it has done so with exceptional play in the clutch.
“We’ve shown some mental toughness the last couple of weeks,” said Liverpool head coach Matt Jacob.
As usual, senior point guard Mike Russo, named the tournament’s MVP after scoring 22 points in the title game, was at the center of affairs. It was, after all, Russo’s scoring frenzy late in the third quarter of Thursday night’s opening-round game against West Genesee that put the Warriors in front for good as it knocked off the previously unbeaten Wildcats 74-65.
Now, against a C-NS side that had shaken off an 0-3 start by winning three in a row (including a 66-56 decision over Class A power New Hartford in the tournament’s opening round), the Warriors again showed it could perform its best in a high-pressure situation.
Through all of regulation, neither team had a lead larger than six points. C-NS was in front most of the way, but late in the fourth quarter Russo’s 3-pointer nudged the Warriors ahead 48-47.
Quickly, the Northstars recovered and gained a 54-50 edge, but saw it shaved to 54-52 on Russo’s pair of free throws with 1:17 left. After Mike Lumia’s shot missed the mark, the Warriors grabbed the rebound with 28.5 seconds to play and called a time-out.
Guessing that the Northstars would hone in on Russo, he became a decoy, allowing Jeff Edwards to drive to the baseline and sink a short jumper with 16.8 seconds left to tie it, 54-54.
Russo almost won it at the end of regulation when, after forcing a tie-up and turnover, he sliced to the top of the key and, from 25 feet out, fired away. His shot went off the backboard and front of the rim, but stayed out, and the game went to overtime.
At that point, said Jacob, he told his players that it was a four-minute game, and the Warriors answered with three flawless minutes of basketball that included big defensive stops and seven unanswered points, four of them from Hector Oyola, who finished with 18 points.
Though shut out in the first 3:10 of the extra period, C-NS hung in there all the way to the end, the game not fully settled until Caleb Taylor made a pair of free throws with 8.6 seconds left in OT.
For the night, Taylor had 13 points and Edwards contributed nine points. Brian DeMonte, with 16 points, paced four C-NS players that scored in double figures as Xavier Brown managed 15 points, Mike Tricarico got 11 points and Lumia contributed 10 points.
To make this possible, each of them had to win in Thursday’s opening round against strong opponents – and did so.
First, Liverpool rallied past West Genesee. The Warriors at first appeared to have difficulty containing a potent, explosive Wildcat attack as WG put together a 10-0 run in the first quarter and an 11-0 spurt in the second quarter, all of which left Liverpool trailing 38-29 at the break.
If the game turned anywhere, it did when WG went up 44-39 midway through the third period. Right after Mike Henry’s basket, he drew a technical foul for taunting, and Russo sank the ensuing free throws.
But Russo was just getting started. He then drilled consecutive 3-pointers to put Liverpool ahead 47-44, and followed it up with another 3-pointer, plus a conventional basket, before the quarter was done. It was a 14-2 run, and 13 of those points were from Russo, as he would get 19 of his 22 points after the break.
The Warriors never trailed again, and when WG closed the gap to 59-56 with less than four minutes left, Liverpool answered with three straight baskets, capped by Taylor’s spectacular baseline dunk with 2:30 left. WG never got as close as five points again.
Taylor, overall, had 19 points, just behind Russo, while Edwards produced a season-best 16 points and Oyola got 12 points. Henry and Shane Temara led WG with 16 points apiece.
Then C-NS took its turn against a New Hartford side that had roared out to its own 7-1 start. Neither side could gain any separation during the first half, but the Northstars inched out to a 33-30 lead going to the break.
Through a tense third quarter, New Hartford had ample chances to catch up, but could not quite do so, and C-NS picked up pressure in the late going, which led to turnovers and easier baskets.
Tricarico, in particular, had a career night, pouring in 27 points, mostly on five 3-pointers and eight successful free throws.
Not far behind, Brown, working inside, gained 20 points. This helped to negate the solid work by the Spartans’ trio of Mark Chanatry (15 points), Tom Clifford (12 points) and Jordan Henderson (11 points), all of whom reached double figures.
New Hartford recovered to beat West Genesee 73-68 in the consolation game, sinking 14 3-pointers, 10 of them in the first half alone.
Liverpool and C-NS aren’t done with each other, as the rematch takes place exactly three weeks from now, on Jan. 18 at the Warriors’ home court.
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