By Matt Nestor
There were three easily identifiable teams that may be able to challenge the Boylan Titans for the conference crown. The Titans had already beaten Hononegah on the road and Auburn at home in the early part of the season.
Those wins led to a highly-anticipated matchup with the Jefferson J-Hawks. Both teams entered the contest a perfect 5-0 in the conference, and Jefferson had a lot of the features of teams the Titans had struggled with on rare occasions this season.
For a half, the game lived up to its billing as the Titans went in with a 29-26 lead. But after seeing Jefferson pull within 1 point at 35-34, Boylan finished the game with a 33-18 run to cruise to a 68-52 victory to take sole possession of first place in the conference.
“I coached too much this week,” Boylan coach Steve Goers said. “We fooled around, put a zone in. We’re not a zone team, but we tried to play a little zone to negate their quickness. But we’re a much better man-to-man team. Our man-to-man defense kind of turned the game around.”
The Titans (13-2, 6-0) started the game in a 2-3 zone, and the J-Hawks took full advantage. Jordan Hardy hit two 3-pointers in the first quarter and their guards were able to find creases in the zone to attack the basket.
Jefferson (12-4, 5-1) ended the first quarter with a 1-point lead. Fouls started to mount for the J-Hawks in the second quarter, and while Boylan struggled with free throws, they hit enough to lead them to their halftime advantage.
Jefferson started the third quarter with a dunk from Mario Manns, who scored 10 points in the game, and had a free throw chance to tie the game. Jefferson coach Todd Brannan said his J-Hawks came in very confident after a good week of practice.
“I thought our kids played hard. We weren’t intimidated, which can happen sometimes when you come here,” he said. “I thought we survived a lot of foul trouble in the first half. To go to halftime down three felt pretty good.”
With the lead down to one, Boylan responded in a big way behind Austin Angel. The sophomore guard, who led all scorers with 20 points, hit back-to-back threes and raced to a 10-point lead by the end of the quarter.
“We knew their pressure was going to be great coming into the game, so we prepared for that,” Angel said. “In walk-through this morning, they found me, so I knew I would have to knock the shots down.”
Boylan came into the game with a big size advantage, with Nick Bauch, Armani Flannigan and Jason Painter all towering over any frontcourt player the J-Hawks have to offer. The trio combined for 26 points, led by Bauch’s 13 points and 13 rebounds.
“Their big kids did very well. They did a good job getting the ball inside,” Brannan said. “Their size hurt us. They got easy looks inside, and they got to the free throw line.”
Boylan also did a good job handling the relentless pressure from the J-Hawks. Goers said guards Angel, Chris Miller and Michael Morman did a good job making sure the Titans were in the right position against the press.
“I’m proud of the kids, they stepped up,” Goers said. “Our guards did a good job of getting the ball in bounds, getting the ball to Austin Angel and Jason Painter, and that was the story of the game.”
The Titans stayed undefeated in the conference the following night. Bauch put up 28 points’ and Angel chipped in another 16 in a 77-55 home victory over the East E-Rabs (0-6, 4-11).
“To win the conference, you better win at home,” Goers said. “If you don’t win at home, you’re going to have a tough time winning conference. We have to defend the home court, and so far we have.”
The J-Hawks were able to bounce back from their first conference loss with a 57-49 victory over Freeport. Jermarkus Lovett scored 18 points to help the J-Hawks overcome a fourth-quarter deficit for the road win.
In other NIC-10 action:
υ Hononegah (11-2, 4-1) got 17 points from Stanley Moore to defeat East 68-43. The win helped the Indians keep pace with Auburn and Jefferson—all one game behind the Titans in the conference race.
υ Fred Van Vleet, Anthony Strickland and J.D. Danforth combined for 57 of the Knights’ 72 points in a 72-51 victory for Auburn (9-4, 4-1) over the Belvidere North Blue Thunder (5-9, 1-3).
υ Freeport (7-7, 2-4) was able to fend off Guilford (4-8, 1-4) 55-43 behind 23 points from Austin Davis in their second conference game of the weekend.
υ The Harlem Huskies (8-8, 2-3) picked up their second conference win with a 66-52 win over Belvidere (4-8, 1-3). Twelve different Huskies scored in the game, led by 12 points from Alex Ghinazzi.
From the Jan. 13-19, 2010 issue.