Beating a No. 1 team is always a nice feather in a team's cap.
On that note, Monsignor Martin heavyweight Park had reason to feel good Thursday night following its nonleague clash against Health Sciences in a battle between the top-ranked Buffalo News large and small school.
The Pioneers avoided a rare losing streak by claiming the 65-52 victory before a standing room only crowd at Daemen College's Lumsden Gymnasium. What more, they had to earn the 'W' against a Falcons team that hungers for a signature nonleague win against one of the area's heavyweights.
With the game hanging in the balance against the defending Section VI Class B champion, Park worked to get the baskets and stops it needed to rebound from Tuesday's 84-60 loss at No. 2 and league rival Canisius and win for the eighth time in nine games.
"That's one of the great things about basketball … you don't have to wait a whole week to play," Park coach Rich Jacob said. "We had to get our mind set and ready to play a competitive Health Sciences team. I thought that was a great game, certainly anybody's game. I'm just glad we came out on top."
It's a game the Pioneers likely wouldn't have won if not for the decision to use a big lineup in the second half and look to get the ball inside in an effort to overcome a 30-29 halftime deficit.
Junior point guard Noah Hutchins saw to it that Park went on the attack, whether it's feeding teammates in the paint or going there himself to score the basketball. Hutchins finished with a game-high 24 points and set the tone scoring the first bucket after halftime on a layup. He had eight points in the third quarter.
The Pioneers' first six field goals of the quarter were from close range. Six-foot-9 Julian Eziukwu scored all five of his points during the 20-point third quarter for Park, while 6-8 Quentin Nnagbo (eight rebounds) had four points in the period.
"He cares so much, sometimes that can challenge a great leader," Jacob said of Hutchins, who finished with seven rebounds and six assists. "He's taken upon himself full responsibility with what happens with the team on the floor and it's showing these days."
Park led by as much as seven twice during the opening half, but the Falcons rallied behind some fine team basketball. Tysheen Lott scored seven of his team-high 15 points in the second quarter with his three giving Health Sciences its first lead (30-29). His three-pointer with 2:26 left in the third quarter tied things at 41-41.
Daniel Scott hit a free throw five seconds later to give the Pioneers the lead for good.
Park changed up its defense in the second half to further frustrate Health Sciences, which only scored seven points during the final eight minutes after trailing 49-45 through three quarters. The Pioneers did a better job stopping penetration and their big men took control of the paint.
Falcons coach Ty Parker said his crew just kind of lost its way after halftime, playing more one-on-one than the team ball that enabled them to gain the early advantage.
"Tysheen Lott was having a great game and we got away from feeding him the ball," Parker said. "We just have to learn how to close out tight ball games."
This is the second time in five days Health Sciences has gone toe to toe against a quality large school opponent with championship aspirations only to stumble down the stretch. The Falcons fell behind early and stormed back to take a third-quarter lead before dropping a five-point decision at Williamsville South last Saturday.
In an earlier season game between large- and small-school No. 1 teams in the area, the Falcons had a fourth-quarter lead in what turned into a tough loss to then top-ranked large school Canisius.
"We haven't played a whole 32 minutes," Parker said. "Until we can do that we will never win the big ball games."
Health Sciences (15-4) has another big game this week, facing third-ranked small school East on Saturday at the rescheduled MLK Classic at City Honors.
Park (16-5), meanwhile, has a few days to savor this win as it doesn't return to action until Monday when it hosts St. Francis.
Davonte Gaines finished with 11 points for Health Sciences.