Niagara Gazette — AMHERST — You could see it in the blank stares of Niagara Falls Wolverines followers who made the trip to Williamsville North High School. They were watching their boys basketball team’s season come to an end in a one-sided contest.
Sophomore Breon Harris hit five 3-pointers and scored 21 points for Niagara Falls (7-12) but the host Spartans (15-4), led by a 20-point performance by Sterling Taplin, jumped to a quick lead and rolled to an 84-63 win over the Wolverines in their Section VI Class AA quarterfinal matchup Friday night.
“They fought until the end. I think the pressure in the first quarter killed us,” said Wolverines head coach Sal Constantino. “We just kind of succumbed to it. I also thought Sterling kind of took the game over early. He only had four points in the third quarter, but he had 16 in the first half.”
When he wasn’t scoring, Taplin was setting up his teammates. He finished the game with five steals and 10 assists.
After Will. North’s Dylan Lambert opened the scoring with a 3-pointer followed by two Falls free throws, the Spartans’ Kolbe Hughes scored seven consecutive points before the Wolverines finally netted their first two points from the field. Hughes finished the game with 17 points, 10 rebounds and seven steals.
Even Constantino was quick to note that turnovers turned things from bad to worse.
“They were bad turnovers,” he said. “It was like we were just hesitant. We weren’t that aggressive. We were a little intimidated, I think.”
While the Wolverines’ Harris kept finding the basket, teammate Mikey Burmudez was simply snakebitten. He worked hard the entire game, trying to create opportunities and taking shots but whether it was a floater near the hoop or a shot from beyond the arc, luck didn’t seem interested in rewarding him for his efforts. He finished the game with six points.
“I think the fact that he started out (keying) on Taplin — and again Sterling’s probably the Western New York player of the year, so it’s not a shame — but Sterling was kind of giving it to him early and I think he felt the need to give it back and at that point I think we played into their hands,” Constantino said.
Taking a 51-30 lead into halftime, the game was well out of reach by the fourth quarter. Yet Niagara Falls players, seeing the threat of going down by as many as 30 points, sparked a late rally that cut the deficit to 21 at the final buzzer.
“We know we’re young and we have one senior on the team. When you look at the scoreboard, all our points were scored by an underclassman, so I guess that’s a good thing to take from it,” Constantino said.
Devin Scarborough, a junior, was second in scoring for Niagara Falls with 12 points.
The team finishes the 2013-14 season at 7-12. Looking ahead to next season, five players on the active roster will enter their senior year. What did Constantino say to his younger roster after last night’s game?
“The last thing I said was people will tell you we’re going to be good next year, because we’re young,” he replied. “And my comment to them is ‘why?’ If you don’t know, if you don’t work hard to get better, then we won’t. So we have to not sit here and live on the fact that we’re young and we’re coming back. We’ve got to work our craft.”