Ty Parker knows there’s a learning process for players new to the varsity game, especially when it comes to his young Health Sciences boys basketball team.
There are three freshmen, two sophomores, three juniors and two seniors in the Falcons’ rotation, and in Parker’s eyes, the only way they’re going to get up to speed is by playing against the best teams the area has to offer.
It worked last season, as Health Sciences reached the state final four after scheduling tough nonleague games against North Tonawanda, Bishop Timon-St. Jude, St. Francis and Middle College.
The Falcons went 0-4 in those games last year, and are 0-3 this season against top-ranked large schools Canisius, Park and Williamsville South. They had one more chance in its season finale against a traditional Yale Cup power Saturday afternoon.
No. 1 small school Health Sciences (16-4) picked up its signature win of the season over No. 3 East (13-7), 65-62, in the main event of the MLK Classic held at City Honors.
“I want to win all the games, but we weren’t good enough to win every game,” Parker said. “But it’s a learning curve, and I can deal with those losses as long as we learn from them and get better at the end of the season going into sectionals.”
The win was a confidence booster for Health Sciences according to junior Kameron Briggs, who scored 17 of his 23 points in the second half after Davonte Gaines (12 points, 12 rebounds) played limited minutes due to foul trouble.
“It meant something to us to win this big game,” Briggs said. “It gives us a big boost because we had lost all of our big games, and this game gives us some momentum to go hard in sectionals.”
East looked like it would run away with it early on, as its stifling defense got the Panthers out to leads of 14-6 after the first quarter and 26-10 with 5:08 left in the half.
“We started off slow because they were getting back on transition and getting open fastbreak shots,” Briggs said. “We really weren’t playing defense at the beginning of the game, and we couldn’t even score. We were falling apart. When we called a timeout, we regrouped and got back together.”
Health Sciences immediately went on a 17-1 run to tie it at 27-27 and took its first lead on a Josiah Haygood (10 points) jumper with 17 seconds to go. East’s Willard Anderson (20 points) made the final bucket of the half on a contested jumper to give the Panthers a 31-30 advantage heading into the break.
The Falcons outscored East, 17-12, in the third to take a 47-43 lead into the final frame. Briggs had eight of those points, including a pair of threes, and couldn’t take a possession off on the defensive end either.
After mixing in a soft zone at the start of the game, Parker switched the Falcons to their signature aggressive man-to-man defense and tasked Briggs with guarding Anderson the rest of the way. Anderson scored eight points in the second half and only two in the third quarter.
“Me and Willard are really good friends, too, and we always go at it on and off the court,” Briggs said. “Either way, I had to step up and play defense. He’s one of the best in Western New York, so I had to give him my best.”
The score was tied at 54-54 and 56-56 midway through the fourth before the Panthers took three-point leads of 59-56 and 61-58. East's Waunya Shaw (23 points) hit three threes and had 11 points over the final eight minutes.
Health Sciences went on a 6-0 run to make it 64-61, taking the lead for good on a Haygood steal-and-score with 1:18 left.
East had multiple chances at a bucket in the final 17.3 seconds. Anderson missed a three with about 10 seconds left, Health Sciences blocked the putback attempt and Shaw was unable to get off another three before the buzzer.
In the first three games of the MLK Classic, honorable mention large school McKinley held off Amherst, 52-47, No. 4 small school Middle College edged No. 9 Tapestry in overtime, 76-75, and WNY Maritime beat I-Prep/Grover, 53-46.