YOUNGSTOWN — Coach Sal Constantino admits he sometimes sits back and watches his Niagara Falls boys basketball team like he’s a fan. Of course, that’s when the Wolverines are playing lights out, sinking shot after shot, making the game look relatively easy.
Niagara Falls got into one of those rhythms that mesmerized its coach Friday night during the third quarter before a sellout crowd at Lewiston-Porter. That enabled the Wolverines to turn what had been a close, competitive game between two of the top-ranked teams in Western New York into a comfortable 78-60 triumph over Lew-Port in the Niagara Frontier League.
Willie Lightfoot scored 11 of his team-high 24 points during the Wolverines’ 26-11 third quarter. Falls also nailed seven of its 11 three-pointers during the final 16 minutes, as the News’ No. 2 large school rallied to hand the fourth-ranked Lancers (12-1) their first loss of the season.
“We just had to get back to being us,” said Lightfoot, the freshman point guard and returning starter who also recorded five assists and four steals. “We weren’t making the extra pass. We really weren’t used to the crowd. The second half we got used to it and got back to playing Niagara Falls basketball. I was lucky to kind of be the hot hand.”
Moran Montgomery scored all 11 of his points during the second half for the winners, while Jalen Bradberry finished with 17 points for the defending Section VI Class AA champions.
The key to Falls being able to play lights out as a team after trailing 33-31 at halftime: Composure. That was one of the words written on the dry-erase board in the locker room during the intermission break.
It’s not that Niagara Falls (13-2) played nervous in the first half. If anything the young Wolverines may have gotten caught up in the hoopla of the moment. The Lancers were trying to beat Niagara Falls for the first time since Jan. 14, 2014.
Also factor in it being the first meeting between the schools since former Falls star Roddy Gayle transferred during the offseason to Lew-Port ... It was rowdy.
Fans of both teams were quite vocal during a game with Wolverines supporters chanting “overrated” whenever Gayle took free throws, and Lew-Port fans responding the same way when Bradberry of Niagara Falls stepped to the foul line.
There were no such chants directed toward Lightfoot, who also played tough defense on Gayle during the first half.
“As talented a player as he is, he really plays off emotion,” Constantino said of Lightfoot. “When he gets a stop or steal then his confidence just builds. And then when he started hitting those threes it was lights out.”
Lightfoot hit three of them in the third quarter – the first giving the Wolverines a 36-33 lead early in the period. He and Jaemon Turner (15 points) took turns hitting key baskets during that eight-minute stretch. After a Lightfoot layup made it 40-36 Falls, Turner followed with a steal and layup of his own 6 seconds later, prompting the Lancers to call timeout.
It didn’t matter as Turner made a steal after the timeout that led to a Bradberry layup. Lightfoot provided the perfect capper for the frame by hitting back-to-back three-pointers – the last with 2.5 seconds to go – making it 57-44 Falls.
“The spurt in the beginning of the third quarter really killed us and they killed us on the boards which is what I thought we had to control,” Lancers coach Matt Bradshaw said.
Trent Scott led Lew-Port with 27 points. Gayle, who fouled out early in the fourth quarter, finished with seven.
Bradshaw hopes his team can use its first loss as a learning experience as to what it needs to improve on before the games really start getting meaningful. The Lancers host unbeaten Cardinal O’Hara on Tuesday and then visit defending state Federation champion Park on Friday.
“Let’s credit Niagara Falls. They’re the best team we’ve played so far,” Bradshaw said. “We have two more really good teams coming up next. ... This is good for us We needed this. We need to work on some things we’ve been getting away with against other teams.”