East 74, Timon 51
In my preseason smatterings, I made it known that I felt East could be a serious threat to Olean for the overall Class B title this season. After watching them play last night, they may just be the favorites. The Panthers wasted no time setting the tone against Timon last night, building a 9-0 lead out of the gates. The game was never close - never even had the feel of a competitive contest. At one point, the Panthers' lead reached 28 points. I expected East to look good, but not that good. I don't think Timon looked nearly as good as they will once the season wears on, and I still expect them to make noise in the MMA and challenge for the Manhattan Cup. That's what makes last night's result so impressive.
The returning players starting for East (Johnathan Lewis, Percy Bryant, Tyree Tyson, & Shaun Young) all look improved, and in particular, very focused. Bryant finished with 13 points & 11 assists. The addition of AJ Ayala from Bennett is far more impactful than I even thought it could be. The kid is a player. He has that gym rat feel for the game - does everything well and can straight up score. He had a nice two-handed stuff on the game's second field goal and showed great range from the perimeter.
Lewis finished with a team-high 27 points for East and didn't even score for the first ten minutes of the game. He had a stretch in the third quarter where he netted 11 consecutive points for his team in just under four minutes.
The kicker in all of this is the Panthers were missing Rasheed Paul last night. If you read my preseason smatterings, you know I'm high on him. At 6-5, Paul does everything, and does it well. When he enters the mix for East, things could get downright scary for opponents facing the school from Northampton Street.
Donte Williams scored a game-high 29 points for Timon in the loss. Two of those 29 points came on a drive to the basket that ended in a posterizing, two-handed flush in traffic that wowed the crowd (and me). Hopefully he stays healthy and gets a full season in, because he's one of the top talents in WNY.
St. Mary's 63, Middle College 58
The Lancers never trailed and led by as many as 12 points in the game, but they sure allowed things to get interesting at the end. Tyler English scored to open the fourth quarter, giving St. Mary's a 49-38 lead. A 10-2 run from the Kats ensued with six of those points coming from Bri'an Brown, closing the deficit to 51-48. The Lancers would extend their lead back to six points, before Middle College scored the next six points, tying the game on another basket from Brown with under three minutes remaining in the game. Moments later, Latrell Tyson scored for St. Mary's, a bucket that would give them the lead for good.
The game went about as expected, with both teams looking as good as I had hoped. Each squad brought back a healthy amount of experienced talent, which accounted for almost all of the game's points. The Lancer senior trio of Wrobel, Cory Kiebzak, and Tyler English have great chemistry together. Last night, the Kats seemed intent on limiting English, and he seemed content to stay within the offense and pass out of double teams. Junior Dione Strong is much more confident this season, and much improved. The addition of Takal Molson looks like it will serve St. Mary's well.
Kevin Briggs of Middle College is a pleasure for a hoop fan to watch, with a non-stop motor, a nice touch from outside, and the ability to get to the hoop, seemingly at will. Brown is a freak athlete, who now as a senior, looks like a grown man out there. When he imposes his will, he's very difficult to contain. Joseph Staton provides the Kats a calm floor general who can bang 'em from downtown if you give him an inch of space.
McKinley 68, Kenmore West 50
The Blue Devils have a solid starting five in Alex Price, Alex Fron, Tyler Grandits, Noah Whalen, and Terrell Ford. The came out of the opening tip with even more energy than McKinley, fueled by a rowdy student section and jumped in front 5-2 in the game's first minute. The problem Ken West ran into was the other 31 minutes in which the Macks were clearly the more aggressive squad. I think the Blue Devils can compete for the NFL title and a spot at Buffalo State again this season, and beginning the year against the defending state champions should only make them better down the road.
Speaking of the champs, I asked the questions in my final score tweet - Did I pick the Macks to win Class A this year? Too late to switch? I actually picked North Tonawanda to win Class A this season - a team I'll see play tonight. While I won't recant that prediction without seeing the Lumberjacks play, they have a lot to live up to if they want to be seen as above McKinley in my eyes. Despite graduating all five starters from the state championship game, the Macks new cast shows that same tenacity we have all come to appreciate about McKinley's teams...the ones who have what is I believe a 13-year streak of reaching the sectional semifinals.
So, maybe I shouldn't have picked against the Macks given the program they've built. But in the preseason, before any games are played, people say some crazy things. Heck, I know a guy who told me "You heard it hear first, Park could win the Monsignor Martin this year". I'm sure Canisius would scoff at that, just as I'm sure Macks coach Zaire Dorsey rolled his eyes and gave away my McKinley shirt when he read my NT prediction.
One of the best things about McKinley year after year, is it takes me multiple games to get familiar with the players on the team, because they all bring that same intensity and the action is so fast & furious, it can be tough to keep up with. As I sat there watching them last night, I just kept thinking, "these guys are good and a lot of fun to watch...the Macks are back". I guess it shouldn't be that much of a surprise, they do it every year and do have the reigning Coach of the Year on their bench.
Mark your calendars now for January 15th and February 13th. Those are the two games between McKinley and East, which will more than likely determine the winner of the Yale Cup. The Macks are two-time defending champs, with a 26-game winning streak in the city. I'll stick with my preseason prediction of East winning it for now.
Wait, I just picked against McKinley again. Will I ever learn?