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Quick hits: Middle College 72, Cheektowaga 65

Playing team basketball is a beautiful thing, especially when it is a talented outfit executing its offense and defense with precision.

Middle College struggled with that concept during the first half of its nonleague clash against Cheektowaga on Saturday afternoon. In fact, the Kats struggled so much with that concept that usually reserved coach Randall Rich let his team hear about it quite vocally during halftime.

The yelling out of character apparently got his players’ attention, as Middle College used a 23-7 third quarter to turn a deficit into the advantage it never relinquished as the Kats rallied for a 72-65 victory during the second of three games at the Martin Luther King Jr. Classic at City Honors.

After finishing with just two assists through 16 minutes, Middle College had 12 in the second half. That along with defensive pressure enabled the Kats to bounce back from this past week’s tough overtime loss to Yale Cup rival McKinley and head into Sunday's challenging nonleague showdown against St. Catharines (Ont.) in Erie, Pa., with some momentum.

“That’s the difference between playing winning and losing basketball,” Rich said. “We played better team basketball in the second half.”

Turning point: The halftime speech, as Middle College wasted little time rallying from 36-31 deficit. JoJo Staton’s three-pointer sparked a quick 9-0 burst in which the Kats took the lead for good on Amir Jemes’ layup with 6:15 left in the third quarter.

Fred Foster had eight points and Staton five during the third quarter, while Gemes had four in the frame.

Top Kats: Foster struggled early but finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds in victory, while Jemes finished with 12 points and 11 assists. Staton poured in 20 points before fouling out with 3:30 left.

Welch report: Cheektowaga star Dominick Welch scored 18 of his game-high 29 points during the first half, including three straight free throws with two-tenths of a second left on the clock to send the Warriors into halftime with the lead and seemingly with some momentum.

Running men: The first half was quite entertaining as both teams played at a fast pace, trying to run the other out of the gym. The game was tied at 14-14 after one quarter. The Warriors used an 8-2 run late in the second quarter to turn a one-point deficit into little cushion, with all four baskets coming via layups.

Records: Middle College 7-5. Cheektowaga 5-5.

Next: Middle College vs. Vaughn (Ont.) at noon Sunday at the MLK Classic at McDowell, Pa. Cheektowaga visits St. Joe’s at 4:30 p.m. Monday.

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