No, the Section III Class A playoffs had not started when Jamesville-DeWitt and Central Square battled last Friday night. It only felt – and sounded – that way.
With loud student sections in full throat from opening tip to final horn, the battle for SCAC Empire division supremacy raged until the Red Rams, keyed by great defense and big baskets from Matt Cieplicki, defeated the Redhawks 51-43.
Central Square had rallied to win their first meeting 55-51 in mid-January. Now they reunited still battling for first place in the league standings and for eventual playoff seeding, and at first the Redhawks got the best of it again.
J-D fell behind 15-4 late in the first quarter, only to have Payton and Preston Shumpert turn it around, each getting 10 points as the Rams went on a 24-3 spurt that covered most of the rest of the first half.
Now it was the Redhawks battling back to tie it, 36-36, by the end of the third quarter, mostly on the production of Tim Giblin, who would lead all scorers with 20 points.
Each side did a strong job containing the other’s hot hands late, with J-D shutting down Giblin and Central Square doing the same to the Shumperts. What made the difference was that the Rams had another option.
As J-D held the Redhawks to just two field goals in the fourth quarter, Cieplicki decided matters. His big 3-pointer with less than two minutes left stretched the Rams’ lead to 46-41, and he hit another jumper seconds later, finishing the night with 17 points, just ahead of Payton Shumpert’s total of 16 points.
And the win was more important because of what happened earlier in the week.
Auburn, a sub-.500 team, arrived at J-D last Tuesday night and tore through the Red Rams’ defenses, not letting up until it had prevailed by a stunning 94-60 margin.
To say that anyone expected this was stretching logic, for the Maroons, despite the presence of a major talent in Kaleb Cook, only had an 8-10 record, and had lost 79-54 to J-D in late November.
Of course, a lot had changed for the Rams since then, but it was still in good form going into the game and not overly concerned when Auburn hung with them early and then took the lead in the second quarter.
However, in the course of the second and third periods, Auburn eviscerated J-D, outscoring them 54-30 with an attack led by Cook, who would finish the night with 31 points and get ample support from Jay Baranick and Troy Churney, who each got 16 points, and Shaheed Beal, who had 15 points.
Try as it could, the Rams could not match the Maroons’ pace, though Payton Shumpert did score 25 points as Cieplicki had 14 points and Preston Shumpert added 10 points.
J-D wasn’t alone in taking a defeat at home to a sub-.500 opponent, though, as East Syracuse Minoa was expected to handle 6-10 Fulton that same night, but lost, 60-51, to the Red Raiders.
Even as it held Fulton to five points in the first quarter, ESM couldn’t build a margin, and paid for it when the Red Raiders outscored them 24-13 in the second period and continued to build its margin early in the second half.
Nick Peterson did get 21 points, with Devin Mascato-Buffaloe adding 15 points and Jack Shields seven points, but Fulton saw Jack Broderick hit six 3-pointers on his way to 22 points as Jake Gugula got 16 points and Marcus Shepard added 10 points.
Ironically, ESM would close its regular season against Auburn Friday night, looking for much better results than J-D did – and not getting them.
The Maroons handled the Spartans 82-59, outscored 49-34 in the second half as Beal burned ESM for 31 points and Cook added 21 points. Peterson paced his side with 17 points, helped by Shields and Dennis Benjack with 12 points apiece.
While all this was going on, Fayetteville-Manlius continued to struggle, falling at home 49-32 to Baldwinsville last Tuesday night.
B’ville did not have a letdown after knocking off West Genesee the night before, limiting the Hornets to three points in the first quarter. F-M rallied and only trailed 20-16 at halftime, but another drought in the third quarter produced just four points as the Bees pulled clear.
F-M then lost 64-45 to Cicero-North Syracuse on Friday, with Ethan Page getting 11 points and Zach Page adding 10 points. Jack Nucerino had eight points as Sal Angotti and Luke Davidson had six points apiece.