If anyone blinked inside Rich Family Activity Center on Friday night, chances are fans might have missed a basket here and a bucket there by Park. The Pioneers tend to score rather quickly.
If they happened to hear an authoritative swishing sound, though, chances are that was a Jordan Nwora dagger from three-point land that they missed.
That’s OK. That sound echoed through the gym seven times, including four times during the second half as the Pioneers pulled away to defeat visiting St. Mary’s of Lancaster, 81-54.
In this clash between the top two-ranked small schools in Western New York, News No. 1 Park rose to the challenge and proved it is indeed worthy of the lofty ranking before an estimated 500. Nwora and Derek Cheatom each played big roles in that for the Pioneers, combining for 39 points as each member of their starting five scored in double figures.
Nwora canned a pair of threes on consecutive possessions to help Park pull away just when St. Mary’s had momentum and threatened to pull even. He finished with 23 points and also had three assists for the Pioneers (10-1, 3-0).
“Once I started hitting them, I couldn’t stop,” said Nwora, a junior. “When I shoot, I can tell when it’s going in.”
“Jordan’s a good player,” Park coach Mike Battaglia said. “Almost all of our players can shoot it. He’s probably the best. He had a good shooting day today. He made some threes when we needed them.”
The Pioneers finally shook off the second-ranked Lancers (11-5, 4-2) during the final 6 minutes, 26 seconds of the third quarter. After St. Mary’s pulled within four, the hosts outscored the Lancers 20-12 the rest of the period.
Park then opened the fourth with another trey, this one from Cheatom. When Nwora drained his last three-pointer of the game, the Pioneers led 70-51 with 3:48 left, as what was once a close game quickly turned into a blowout.
“We thought we could play a better second half,” Lancers coach Paul Rath said. “Nwora got hot and was making threes from all over the place. … He was in the groove. He was in the zone tonight.”
Park finished with 12 three-pointers as each long-range bomb proved to be an effective way of blunting Lancers momentum.
After falling behind 5-0 at the start, the Pioneers scored 12 straight points to take the lead for good. Consecutive treys from Nwora and Hunter Anderson made it 8-5 Pioneers midway through the first quarter.
After Takal Molson’s three-pointer pulled St. Mary’s within 22-16, Park only hit four more baskets during the final 5:25 of the second quarter. The problem for the Lancers: Each of those baskets was a three-pointer as Park led at halftime, 34-26.
Making matters worse for the guests is they missed some makeable shots off open looks, several from in close. If some had fallen the Lancers might not have been down eight at the break.
St. Mary’s put that in the back of its mind and started the third quarter like it would be a tough out, using a quick 6-2 blitz, capped by a Molson steal and Kayson Hill layup, to make it 36-32. Molson finished with 21 points.
Then the Lancers blinked. They were down 10 two minutes later. This time, the hole proved inescapable.
Cheatom finished with 16 points, nine rebounds and two blocks, while Randy Golda had 11 points and 12 rebounds for Park.
“St. Mary’s played tough and strong,” Battaglia said. “It was a struggle for us. … We play them again in their gym and I know it’s going to be different.”