NIAGARA FALLS — With defense like this, Wolverines can take things as far as they'd like to.
With Niagara Falls native and Atlanta Falcons running back Qadree Ollison in attendance, Niagara Falls put on a show by locking down the Charter School for Applied Technology, 76-29, Friday night at Niagara Falls High School. The Wolverines (9-2, 6-0) have risen to the top of the Niagara Frontier League standings, knocking off the Eagles (8-2, 4-1) as both teams entered the game undefeated in league play.
Niagara Falls set the tone early, blitzing CSAT with a 20-3 first quarter margin. The Wolverines often turned defense into offense, with four players scoring in double figures: Jaemon "Mookie" Turner (27), Bryce Smith (13), Caleb Tillman (10) and Taylor Sanders (10). Turner put up his 27 through three quarters as he continues to light courts up this season.
Xavier Alvarez finished as the Eagles' leading scorer with five points.
The Falls was up by as many as 48, showing its mettle in dominant fashion. Head coach Brent Gadacz talked about the work the team has put in to be clicking the way they have on the defensive end.
"I think our defense has been fantastic. As I said early in the year, we (often) played well for a half defensively," Gadacz said. "Really over Christmas break, we concentrated on a lot of defense. We did a lot of extra drills, a lot of blocking out drills, five-man shell drills, three-on-three, keep the guy out of the paint, a cut-throat drill that we do. We're talking a lot better, hedging, helping, recovering. We're pinching on the drive, keeping people out of the paint. It's really going well right now.
"I'm really thrilled, we're holding teams to 40 points or less a lot of the time. It's fun."
In its last three wins, the Falls is allowing an average of 33 points per game, giving up 38, 32,and 29, to Jamestown, Grand Island and CSAT, respectively. Smith also talked about the defensive effort, especially with how strong the team came out with its defensive pressure.
"We just play defense really good. We know how to help and hedge and get back," Smith said. "And we just know our coach, he's just big on boxing out and getting rebounds. And we had an advantage in the rebounds. That's what really separated (them) from us was defense."
Smith really seems to be the hidden gem that has sparked the season to this point, as the former Niagara Wheatfield and Elmira High School student-athlete has found his footing and brought a presence to the Wolverines' front court.
"I told my coach from the beginning ... I told him I was gonna pick up all his plays quick," Smith said. "You know, I'm just rebounding and I'm just doing what I can do."
Turner may have had his most complete game of the season, not only scoring but applying defensive pressure and getting his guys involved by seeing the floor with great vision. Gadacz acknowledged how he is growing as a point guard, and that he wants to see him continuing to limit mistakes in his decision making. But it is still a luxury for Gadacz to let "Mookie" run the show as a scorer, and he made sure to adjust the offense with Turner having the hot hand.
Caleb Tillman was another name to highlight in the win, as the backup two guard stepped in for Aarien "Ubi" Robinson, bringing down 13 rebounds while making so many plays outside the box score.
"Caleb has been giving us that energy off the bench pretty much all year. He's starting to pick up his aggressiveness offensively and play his role well," Gadacz said. "And he's really starting to, you know, get back to the timing that he had when he played for me on JV last year, with our sets, and our movement, and our spacing. ... He's definitely earned some more minutes tonight."
With six games left in their NFL schedule, Gadacz just hopes the Wolverines can remain on their upward trajectory.
"Hopefully we continue to do what we're doing defensively and I think, even though we're getting a lot of good looks, I still think we need to be a little bit more patient," Gadacz said. "I'm not asking for 30 seconds off the shot clock every time, but maybe an extra pass here and there, it's gonna benefit us in the long run. ... I just got done telling the kids over break too, when we're four-five passes or more, we're like over 60% from the field in the half court. Two or less, we're under 40%.
" ... Early in the game, good looks, I wanna make teams play a little bit more defense to get 'em a little bit more tired, because we're in shape and if we can wear them down and force them to play a little bit more defense, it's gonna benefit us in the fourth quarter as well."
Next up for Niagara Falls is Kenmore East, paying the Bulldogs a visit at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Follow sports reporter Khari Demos on Twitter @riri_demos. Also, tune in to Khari at 10 a.m. on Saturdays on WGR 550's 'Inside High School Sports,' as well as the 'Greater WNY Sports Connection' podcast, a collaboration with Jon Simon and WNY Athletics.