If the opening night of ECIC I league play gives us any true indication of what's in store this season, then we're in for a treat. Clarence and Williamsville North gave us a look into mid-season league competitiveness on Tuesday night, as the two schools battled in an exciting affair that featured two of WNY's top players, two of WNY's top programs, and a two-point victory that was secured in the final seconds.
With ice water flowing through his veins, Ryan Funk calmly swished three straight free throws with 3.1 seconds on the clock to lift his Red Devils to a 70-68 victory over the host Spartans. Funk finished the game with a team-high 27 points in the Clarence victory.
Funk's late-game heroics were set up by a thrilling fourth quarter that saw the lead change 15 different times, and included three ties. With the back-and-forth stanza knotted at 65 apiece, Elliot Case stroked a jumper from a couple feet inside the three-point arc, putting Clarence up by two at the 1:28 mark of the fourth quarter. Sterling Taplin got to the foul line on the ensuing possession and connected on one of two, pulling the Spartans within a point, 68-67.
The Red Devils were looking to extend their lead, when Funk was called for a travel in the lane with Spartan defenders smothering him. The Clarence bench was assessed a technical foul for its protest of the call, sending Taplin back to the line, who hit both shots from the stripe with 53 seconds left in the game to put North in front, 68-67. Unable to build on that lead with a possession following the 'T', Clarence got the ball back and called a timeout to set something up for the win. The Red Devils called Funk's number, who came off screens and fought through the clutching of Spartan defenders and got the ball at the top of the key, well behind the 3-point line. As Funk elevated for a deep, desperation '3', he was sent to the floor and awarded the foul call, where he would sink all three attempts with 3.1 seconds left in the game.
The win improves Clarence to 3-0 on the season, and all three wins have come against formidable opponents. Prior to last night, the Red Devils claimed the championship at Amherst's Bob Hettler Tip Off Classic Tournament with wins over Amherst and North Tonawanda, who just won by 17 at Niagara Falls. For Williamsville North, who had next to no team preparation time because of its football program's success, it's a second gut-wrenching loss to open a season filled with high hopes.
Emaure Williams finished with 13 points for Clarence, while Case scored 12 points, and Evan Harof added 10 points.
Sterling Taplin scored a game-high 32 points for the Spartans, while Maceo Jack and George Attea each contributed 12 points.
** Game Notes **
- North outscored the Red Devils, 28-16, in the third quarter after trailing by nine at halftime
- Taplin scored 15 of his 32 points in the third quarter
- Williams scored 11 of his 13 points in the first half
- Maceo Jack attempted to dunk over a defender on the fast break but was fouled
- Clarence never trailed in the first half & led by as many as 10 points
- 12 of the game's final 14 points came at the charity stripe over the final 2:52
- Elliot Case had become a major factor for the Red Devils & gets after it on defense
- So often overlooked is the phenomenal passing of Taplin, and he makes it look easy & effortless