There are still plenty of boys basketball games to be played this season, but one thing is apparently certain. Last year's "no nights off" moniker still is a fitting description of life in the Monsignor Martin High School Athletic Association.
With that in mind, it shouldn't be surprising that Park took down No. 1 Canisius.
In the clash between the top two-ranked Buffalo News large schools, the No. 2 Pioneers rode huge performances from junior guards Daniel Scott and Noah Hutchins in defeating the three-time defending Manhattan Cup Class A champions, 77-69, Saturday afternoon before a capacity crowd at Park School.
Scott scored 16 of his game-high 25 points during the first half. Hutchins added 21 points, seven rebounds and four assists, while 6-foot-9 junior Julian Eziukwu chipped in with 10 rebounds, including seven huge ones on the offensive glass, to go with two blocks as Park won its third in a row since dropping a one-point decision at league foe and News No. 3 school Bishop Timon-St. Jude on Jan. 9.
Ryan Bradley led Canisius with 22 points and eight rebounds.
When the Pioneers' defense wasn't fueling the transition game, Hutchins did a fine job conducting the half-court offense as Park became the first team this season to score more than 59 points against the Crusaders, ranked first in both the Buffalo News and New York State Sportswriters' Class A polls.
"We were able to push the tempo, and we kept pushing it," said Scott, a junior who now has scored 1,500 points in his career. "Right now it (the win) doesn't mean anything because we're going to come across them again later."
Scott has a point because Park (11-4) swept the two-game regular-season series with the Crusaders (10-2) last year but failed to even make the Manhattan Cup final. The rematch between the teams is Feb. 6 at Canisius.
"This is a great league," first-year Park coach Rich Jacob said. "We have to continue to prepare, we have to continue to get better defensively and again utilize our strengths and be poised."
Part of remaining composed for Jacob's crew is following the lead of Hutchins. In addition to finding open teammates, Hutchins helped set the defensive tone early for the Pioneers with an uncontested layup following a clean steal at halfcourt. He also grabbed a couple key offensive rebounds that led to points for Park.
Hutchins and Scott sparked the lengthy run that enabled the Pioneers to surge ahead for good. Scott drained a three-pointer that tied the game at 14 with 1:40 left in the first quarter. Hutchins followed with consecutive layups.
The Pioneers quickly turned their three-point lead through one quarter into a double-digit margin with an 18-3 blitz that included two threes from Scott and two more from Brandon Smith (13 points, two assists).
A sign it might not be Canisius' day? Early during that run, the Crusaders grabbed five offensive rebounds on the same possession but came up empty.
Park led 40-29 at half and had a 58-40 lead early in the fourth quarter after Scott's one-handed jam off a Canisius turnover.
The Crusaders continued to battle, however, and pulled within 72-67 with 21.7 seconds left on a Nick MacDonald trey. Canisius almost stole the ensuing inbound but failed to corral the ball.
"I thought they played harder than we did and certainly made more plays," Crusaders coach Kyle Husband said. "We have to work harder. It starts at practice. I think we're getting better but they're clearly a better basketball team right now. It's early in the season still. We have a lot of basketball to play."
Canisius returns to action Monday when it visits St. Mary's of Lancaster. Park is off until Friday, when it entertains Niagara Catholic.