SYRACUSE Even at 10-3, with twice its win total from a season ago, the Cazenovia boys basketball team still lacked the pressure-filled, attention-grabbing victory that could leap them into contender status.
That changed, though, on Friday night, when the Lakers, down by eight to two-time defending Section III Class B champion Westhill late in regulation, came back and forced overtime, and went on to top the Warriors 48-46.
"I'm pleasantly surprised with how well we are playing," said Cazenovia head coach Paul Harney. "These kids are excellent athletes, and now they're becoming better basketball players."
Good enough, in fact, not to get rattled when Westhill, using a 15-2 run, took a 36-27 lead midway through the fourth quarter of what, to that point, had been a contest dominated by both defenses.
Cazenovia, who makes no secret of how it emulates Westhill's man-to-man pressure, had led throughout the first half, the defensive presence so strong that the Warriors felt it even with open looks near the basket, leading to misses of high-percentage shots.
When those shots started to fall, though, the Lakers appeared in trouble - until Tanner Whiteman, sinking a 3-pointer with 4:15 left to make it 36-30, launched the Lakers' rally.
Again, the defense stood out, holding Westhill without a field goal in the last 5:10 of regulation as a series of free throws from Whiteman and Chad Warren closed the gap to 39-36.
Then, with 25 seconds left, Whiteman took a contested 3-pointer from the far left corner - and sank it to forge a 39-39 tie. Westhill could not manage a shot in the ensuing possession as time ran out, leading to overtime.
In the four-minute extra period, Warren's free throws, plus a layup from Whiteman, put the Lakers back in front. Westhill closed to 45-44, but Warren, who finished with 12 points, hit a key basket with 50 seconds left to stretch the margin back to three.