Trying to make preseason predictions and figure out where teams should be ranked in a poll before games are played can be challenging. Getting out to start watching the teams I've been making projections on is a lot more fun! Two of the four teams I thought would end up at Buff State at season's end in Class B1 were Newfane & MST Seneca. Both had its best players back from the prior season and would be serious contenders for respective league titles. Newfane played its season opener against North Tonawanda, a Class A1 team also pegged to appear in the sectional semifinals with a ton back. The game ended in a 13-point loss for the Panthers. MST Seneca got started against defending Class C State Champion, Middle College. The Wolves scored a nine-point victory over the perennial powerhouse that got the attention of local hoops followers. On Monday night, I got my first look at both teams, as MST Seneca visited Newfane for what I dubbed an early season Class B1 Clash. I left feeling pretty good about picking both teams to still be standing late in February.
Newfane benefitted from the contributions of a deep bench, hustle plays, and a pair of standouts, to earn their first victory of the season over MST Seneca, 56-43. Kyle DeVoogel scored a team-high 18 points for Newfane, while Max Weber added 15 points and several key assists. The Panthers & Wolves both move to 1-1 in the early portion the season.
If you rushed to judgement on this game, you'd have called it a blowout for the Wolves. The visitors overwhelmed Newfane right out of the opening tip, repeatedly turning them over and converting for easy buckets. Sophomore point guard Earl Howard looked dominant early on, scoring eight points in the first three minutes and leading his team's press, to get MST Seneca out to a fast 8-2 edge. Even as Newfane began to find the basket, the Wolves continued turn them over, disrupt their offense, and keep the game at a pace that didn't allow the Panthers to set up defensively. Howard scored 13 points in the first eight minutes and had his team up 17-8, before Newfane's DeVoogel hit from downtown late in the quarter, making it 17-11 after one. If MST Seneca had finished better around the basket, the early lead would have been much greater.
"We weren't using our dribbles effectively to get into space and then ball fake," Newfane coach Eric Klumpp said of his team's shaky start. "They're so quick, they'd jump in front of anything you threw."
The time between quarters, perhaps sparked by DeVoogel's late '3', seemed to calm the Panthers. As the second quarter got underway, Newfane was no longer reeling, but rather composed by comparison to the beginning of the game. Taking better care of the ball led to better execution offensively, which in turn, allowed the Panthers to then get back and set up their 2-3 zone. DeVoogel netted six straight points in the early portion of the second quarter, while Weber began spilling dimes to his teammates. The junior floor general delivered timely assists to Connor Hill and Chad Dunbar, and added his own bucket between the two dishes. Newfane would win the second quarter, 15-2, and didn't allow a basket by MST Seneca until just 23 seconds before halftime. The halftime score favored the Panthers, 26-19.
"Newfane settled down and we couldn't get out of our own way or make a bucket," MST Seneca coach Scott Kirsch said. "We dribbled in front of the zone instead of passing through it, and when we passed, we telegraphed every one of them."
Caleb Russell started the third quarter with a 3-pointer for Newfane, giving his team a double figure lead, 29-19. The shot capped a 21-2 run that spanned back to the end of the first quarter. With the Wolves now focused on slowing DeVoogel, Newfane found more offense from Hill, Dunbar, and Weber. Howard got back in the act for MST Seneca as well, and struck from downtown to help his team from falling farther behind. The Panthers still led by ten late in the quarter, before Anthony Speed scored for the Wolves, followed by a David Anderson trey from the left corner that made it 39-34 heading into the fourth.
As the final frame unfolded, it became apparent that the night belonged to Newfane. DeVoogel struck to start the quarter, and after Anderson hit another '3' from the same spot for the Wolves, Weber came right back and answered with a splash of his own. After MST Seneca scored on its next trip down the floor, Weber came back again with another long-range bomb at the 6:08 mark to make it 47-39. The Wolves were held to just one field goal the rest of the way, as Newfane's scrappy effort carried the day and they ended the game with 9-2 finish. Nine different Panthers scored in the contest.
"Newfane's a good team, they played their butts off, they worked hard and figured some things out," Kirsch said.
The Panthers clearly had the advantage in depth, which was a big factor in overcoming the MST Seneca pressure that plagued them early. As the Wolves fatigued, Newfane rested players, while each Panther that took the court played as hard as the next.
"I think everybody out there dove on the floor tonight and it was just a true team effort," said Klumpp. "Dunbar drew two charges in the first two minutes he was out there and lit a fire under everyone else. We tried to roll guys in and keep it fresh. I think our depth really helped us tonight."
While it was a tough loss for a Wolves team coming off a monumental season-opening win over a state champion, it's a long season. MST Seneca will only benefit from the long road trip to Niagara County and competing against a team they were unfamiliar with.
"It was a good experience, great atmosphere and fans - we need a game like this out of their comfort zone because if we get a game like this in sectionals, we've been here before," said Kirsch.
Howard finished with a game-high 20 points for MST Seneca, while Anderson scored 11 points.
Newfane: Kyle DeVoogel 18, Max Weber 15, Connor Hill 8, Chad Dunbar 4, Drew Boudeman 3, Caleb Russell 3, Sam Kline 2, Albert Kramp 2, Brandon Gross 1
MST Seneca: Earl Howard 20, David Anderson 11, Dom Prince 8, Diallo Gray 2, Anthony Speed 2