The Western men's open basketball team lost last year's Empire State Games gold medal final to Hudson Valley, and on Friday lost to the same opponent in the preliminary round of this year's games.
On Sunday the story was different.
Niagara Falls native Greg Gamble had 22 points and University at Buffalo teammate Byron Mulkey scored 14 as the smaller -- but faster -- Western team burst to an 11-point halftime lead and beat Hudson Valley, 78-64, at Iona College's Hynes Athletic Center.
"We came out with a lot of energy at the beginning and we just wanted to run," said Gamble, who will be a junior at UB. "They're a slow team. We just wanted to get the ball out and push it and we made it happen. When they played the big men, we just took it right at 'em."
The 6-foot-3 Gamble personified that several times, taking the ball at a Hudson Valley lineup which often had the height advantage at every position on the court.
Hudson Valley often had 6-6 Jason Boone of New York University (20 points), Marist's 6-8 Ryan Stilphon (10) and 6-7 Ryan Schnieder (eight) and 6-7 Quincy Jones of Pace (four) on the floor at the same time.
Western and Hudson Valley have met in the last three gold medal games, with each winning on the opposing region's home floor. Western won in 2005 at Marist in Poughkeepsie and Hudson Valley won last year in Rochester. Friday night, Western couldn't handle the size -- or zone -- of the home team in a 78-72 loss.
Former Brockport State coach Bill Bowe, coaching in his ninth Empire Games, had Western attack the top of the zone with quick passes in the lane to slashers like Gamble and 6-4 Ryan McAdam (20 points), who is from Fairport and plays at Nazareth College. The pair repeatedly swished short jumpers to combine for 18 of Western's first 22 points. Then Mulkey hit a three-pointer for a 26-12 Western lead.
In the second half, the lead got in single digits just once, and Gamble responded by beating two taller players -- he took one off the dribble and then hit a tough left-handed bank shot to make it 54-43. Gamble hit a layup after a slick bounce pass from the top of the key by Mulkey to stretch the lead to 66-50 with 5:10 to play.
The University of Rochester's 6-7 Jon Onyiriuka had only two points for Western, but they were loud ones. He dunked on Jones after a bounce pass from Gamble for a three-point play and a 68-52 score with 3:55 left.
Bergen's 6-6 Joe Rebisz, a 2002 Roberts Wesleyan grad playing in his eighth Games, scored 15 as he slithered to his patented blind reverse layups.
Gold medals also were earned by 5-10 Canisius guard Frank Turner (five points), Hutch-Tech and UB grad Darwin Young, Bishop Timon-St. Jude and Hilbert grad Glen Ufland, Medaille's Mike Berkun (Williamsville North) and ESG veteran Michael Brown of Rochester, who played in his first Games in 1991.
"We wanted to come out on top and get another one for the West," said Mulkey, a Niagara-Wheatfield grad who will be a sophomore at UB. "It feels great, it means our region is best in the state."