Julian Cunningham says he's still has friends on the St. Francis Red Raiders boys basketball team.
The friendships were definitely put on hold at tip-off once Cunningham's new team, Bishop Timon-St. Jude, and his old one crossed paths Friday afternoon in South Buffalo. Cunningham's play proved that as the junior guard did everything in his power to make sure the Tigers extended their winning streak at the expense of St. Francis.
Cunningham, a 2017 third team All-Western New York selection, scored 12 of his game-high 26 points during the first quarter in an 82-66 victory over the visiting Red Raiders in a Monsignor Martin High School Athletic Association matchup between ranked Buffalo News large-school teams.
Cunningham's performance, which included five assists and four rebounds, quelled any notions that he might press or have any butterflies going against the team he helped reach the Manhattan Cup final last year.
"We talked about it and one thing I told him was control your emotions," Timon coach Jason Rowe said. "I've been in this situation before. … Just play how you've been playing and everything will happen. If you start pressing too much, you'll get yourself in trouble. Just play how you play and I thought he did an excellent job of that."
"I have a lot of friends on that team," said Cunningham, who came into the game averaging 15.3 points per game. "At the end of the day they want to compete with us."
Cunningham's outburst happened during an out of this world shooting performance from downtown by the Tigers during the opening 8 minutes that tilted the competition in Timon's favor.
Cunningham drained three of his team's six treys in the quarter and also hit three free throws after being fouled on a three-point try. Alero World (15 points) also canned three treys during the opening quarter to push No. 3 Timon to a 25-11 through one quarter in a game it never trailed.
"The guys did a very good job of executing, staying patient," Rowe said. "I've been encouraging guys if you're open shoot it. I'm not a robotic type of guy. That's how you build your confidence. Fortunately for us they went in."
The seventh-ranked Red Raiders trailed just 9-7 before World hit two treys with one by Cunningham in between that enabled Timon to put its Southtowns rival in an inescapable hole.
After the first quarter, the Tigers turned to their inside game with Master Radford going to work. The senior finished with 19 points, 12 rebounds and nine blocks. He scored 11 of his points during the second half, with Cunningham and fellow guard Tahron Goudelock (10 points, four assists) taking turns feeding him in the paint.
The win enabled Timon to keep pace with fellow one-loss league members Canisius and Park, as those three large school teams in the MMHSAA look like they could be in for a battle to the finish in the race for that No. 1 seed in the Manhattan Cup playoffs next month.
The Tigers (13-2, 4-1) have now won five in a row, a streak that begin with a one-point win over current News No. 1 Park, back when it was ranked second. The Pioneers moved into the top spot this week after beating former No. 1 Canisius last Saturday.
To say things are going great in Rowe's first season as coach would be an understatement. They're playing relaxed and loose and, more importantly, for each other.
"The kids trust me, and I trust the kids," Rowe said. "We don't have any pressure on us. … All we have to do is play hard and play together. I'm very pleased.
"Timon has been awesome. It makes the job that much more easier when you get support from everyone."
The Tigers, whose only losses came in December to Williamsville South and Jan. 3 at Canisius, return to action Monday night against St. Mary's at Timon.
David Bartholomew had 16 points to lead St. Francis (9-8, 3-3).