Winning boys basketball games in ECIC I is not supposed to be easy. It's supposed to be hard, especially when the division's contenders gather for their regularly scheduled grudge matches.
West Seneca West knows this and although Thursday's 82-61 final score at Clarence on paper looks like another walk-in-the-park type of victory for a team that's won all of its games by double-digits that was definitely not the case.
The Red Devils (6-6) pushed the unbeaten Indians, but the News' fourth-ranked large school showed it was more than up to the task. The Indians rallied from an early deficit and then made the shots and got the stops they needed with the game hanging in the balance to improve to 14-0 overall, including 7-0 in league play.
"Being 14-0 is big because West hasn't done anything like that before," said junior Adrian Baugh, who scored a game-high 25 points and also grabbed eight rebounds. "We're just trying to turn the program around."
The Indians, ranked 13th in this week's state Class A poll, have done that even though there's still much work to do if they want to win their first division title since coach Desmond Randall's playing days back in 2004. Still, they are one win away from tripling last year's victory total.
"I have a great group of kids," said Randall, who guided Bishop Timon-St. Jude to the top seed in the Manhattan Cup playoffs last year as its coach. "When I first got over here they were very humble and willing to learn and take coaching. That set the tone. They've done everything we've asked them to do as a coaching staff. You combine that with talented and skilled kids that's why we're able to start the way we have."
While Baugh had 25 points, fellow junior Juston Johnson added 22 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds. It's Johnson's 10th double-double. While they had big games, it took the contributions of many for West to seize control against a Clarence team that came into this division rematch having won four straight games and playing some good basketball.
It showed early with the Red Devils leading 18-13 after one and extending that advantage to 10 points at one point in the second quarter. They hit seven of their 13 three-pointers during the opening 24 minutes as they did a fine job moving the ball and finding the open shooter.
Baugh, who returned after tweaking an ankle earlier in the quarter, led the comeback – scoring 11 points during West's quarter-closing 16-3 run that enabled the Indians to take a 34-31 lead into halftime. Jesse Broad's three-pointer with 1 minute, 48 seconds left in the quarter gave West the lead for good.
Broad finished with nine points. Alex Wayland nailed four treys for his 12 points, including three during the second half. The first came with 3:17 left in the third quarter with the Indians leading 44-42. That was the first of four straight treys by West that enabled it to take a 58-50 lead into the final quarter. The Indians hit nine of their 12 treys during the final half.
Though Clarence got some open looks in the fourth, the shots that fell earlier didn't drop, providing the opening for West to methodically pull away. Steve Kabayiza led the Red Devils with 16 points.
"We needed to be pushed and challenged," Randall said. "It's something we definitely expected. … We know going back through our league schedule a second time we have to be ready to go."
While the triumph helps West inch closer toward securing a division title, it also increases chatter that another West team could be on the verge of doing something special.
The basketball Indians would like to follow in the footsteps of the football team that won their first Section VI and New York State Public High School Athletic Association championships in the fall. Several members of the football team have played a role in basketball's sizzling start – including leading scorer and first team All-Western New York receiver Johnson, Broad, Wayland and Bryan Ball.
"I don't want us to get too far ahead because there are still tough teams to beat," Randall said. "It's probably different than football because there are more games and opponents.
"We're trying our hardest not to pay attention to that stuff yet. You have to get there first."
Thursday's triumph was another step in the right direction for the Indians.
"We’ve got our ear to the fire but we're just trying to make sure we take care of league to make sure we put ourselves in good position for the playoffs," Randall said. "The team is very well-rounded and that helps us out a lot."