S.S. Seward Turns Another Tight Game Into A Win As Spartans Once Again Come Up Big In Crunch Time To Down Tri-Valley To Remain Unbeaten In League Play
S.S. Seward 68, Tri-Valley 55
By RICHARD A. ROSS
Photos at: www.sportsiny.com
EDITOR’S NOTE; RUSHING OFF TO WEST POINT FOR INDOOR DIVISIONALS. WILL INSERT PHOTO PANEL TONIGHT
GRAHAMSVILLE, NY—I opened my eyes and sat up in bed with the title “A Clockwork Orange,” that diabolical delightful classic film by Stanley Kubric popping into my head.
This of course was the product of my unconscious mind,.always at work, pondering what to make of yet another Seward victory against an opponent bound and determined to upset the Orange cart.
Like those before them, as the buzzer sounded, the Tri-Valley Bears would be left to wonder what happened.
To this writer who has witnessed this dynamic time and time again over the years, it still remains an intriguing conundrum, that is, how does Coach Rob Gravelle seem to be so successful in building teams that are so hard to close out; which have those intangible qualities that make for such frequent success.
Just a week ago the Spartans staved off a furious comeback bid by Sullivan West to marshal a 61-59 victory to preserve their unblemished league record. And now it was Tri-Valley on the Bears’ home floor in yet another road game in the gauntlet of Class C.
But while road wins can be harder on the nerves for the Orange Crush, for Seward it was just another night at the office.
Even with their bigs all banged up and far less dominant than is their wont, the Spartans found a way, this time by dint of a pair of deft-shooting guards in Eric Block and Craig Smith to manicure the Bears’ claws when push came to shove and walk out with a double-digit victory in a game that had at times, seemed like it was too close to call.
That closeness can be attributed to several things: Tri-Valley Coach Kyle Humphrey’s strategy to apply stringent full court pressure on Seward in an attempt to wear the Spartans down, coupled with an intense defensive pressure that made it difficult for Seward to execute its interior game thereby forcing the guards to fire from the perimeter or slash to score or draw fouls.
In addition, Tri-Valley 8-4 (2-2 OCIAA) did a great job rebounding the basketball, trying to fuel its intention to score on the run.
Humphrey also utilized a two-tier cast on the floor, subbing in one group for another to give his starters a needed blow.
For the most part his game plan kept the Bears right in the mix, even tying the game up at 43-all late in the third quarter before Seward deployed its extra gear and the Bears’ machine failed to keep pace in the helter skelter fourth frame.
Seward (9-4, 4-0 OCIAA) was paced by 25 points from junior Eric Block and senior Craig Smith. The latter’s five three-pointers were killers and resonant proof that practice while not always leading to perfection certainly helps. According to Gravelle Smith, who didn’t play last year, has been working on his jump shot and release. Seward competitors had best begin to honor that attribute or else.
Smith had a trio of treys in the first quarter to help the Spartans evince a 16-9 lead by the end of the first stanza. Tri-Valley was paced by Dion Lynch who have five of the Bears’ nine points. A bucket apiece from Zach Nilsen (his only points on the night) and Justin Swarthout rounded out the Bears’ scoring.
Tri-Valley outscored Seward 18-17 in the second period to cut the deficit to 35-27 at the half.
In that second quarter flurry the Bears got a pair of treys from junior Robert Worden and five points from Swarthout that included a trey of his own. The Bears were also six-for-seven from the stripe en route to an 18-for-32 night from the line (56%).
For their part the Spartans got nine from Smith that included his fourth three-pointer and seven points from Block.
The Bears outscored Seward 18-13 in the third quarter, their best segment of the night wherin they tied the game at 43-all with 4:04 remaining in the stanza with a furious rush. They would trail by three heading into the final stanza.
Give the Bears credit as Seward tried to widen the gulf in the third quarter only to be frustrated by T-V’s refusal to quit. Shane Rennison’s seven-point contribution was key to that rally. Lynch added five points and Thomas Mungeer posted four. Mungeer and Nilsen had off-nights from their normally prolific scoring capacity but even so, the Bears hung close.
But in the fourth stanza, once Seward widened the lead they would never relinquish it, doubling up the Bears 20-10 in crunch time to evince the 68-55 victory which completed a first half of the season sweep of Division V rivals. Smith and Block (why do I feel like writing Smith and Wesson?) each had a trey. Block had eight points and Smith seven in that final stanza as each ended up with 25 on the night.
Lynch led T-V with 13 overall, while Swarthout and Rennison each adcded nine to the cause.
Seward was 14-of-25 from the line (567%). They turned the ball over 14 times to T-V’s 18.
Gravelle noted that his team can be hot or cold from the free throw line. “It’s kind of our curse sometimes,” he quipped. Aksed about the fourth quarter surge, Gravelle noted, “We’re a little banged up and with Rob Scott in foul trouble we tried to go zone but they took us out of the zone and we came and played man-to-man and I thought we did a good job. We should have rebounded a lot better and we didn’t finish terribly well inside but Eric Block penetrating from the top really finished well and once we have a lead late in the game I’ll put Eric and Craig Smith up against anybody out there. They’re smart, they play well together and they value the ball,” he averred.
Seward has been hampered by injuries as big man Bobby Olsen sprained his ankle in the Sullivan West game. He gutted it out but he gave us a lot of minutes. Mikai Shorter is coming off a torn ACL. He missed all of last season. This is the most minutes he’s played. He’s very aggressive and did a nice job. Those are our two bigs and now we have a little time to get them healthy.”
Seward will host Eldred and then at Tuxedo before taking on Sullivan West at home on February 9.
Humphrey felt the press worked well. “I was running a ten-man rotation tonight..basically two teams. In that fourth quarter it was tough for me to find my five who could close the quarter. I’m wondering if I didn’t give the chance to stay in synch by giving a guy a rest here or there,” he wondered.
“in an intense game like this with a lot of guys being sick I thought that quick water break would be helpful to them,” he added.
For sure the shuffling in and out during the game seemed to be working. Humphrey concurred that Seward is a very tough team to close out. “They are . Block’s huge three from deep behind the line in a critical situation and Smith given an opportunity to strike lethally, they came through. I’m not mad at my team at all. We did do a good job of rebounding but their bigs really went after it at the end of the game.”
“I thought the full court press is something we will take with us in the playoffs,” Humphrey added acknowledging that Seward may be one of the toughest teams to press that way.
Humprhrey credited Justin Swarthout. “Pressing is his style of game and making things happen, playing off the ball like a safety in football. His instincts come into play and I think for a lot of people who have been wondering where Justin fits in, this style of play will help him flourish down the line.”
T-V looks to its coming game with Fallsburg as the one that will lock up its playoff berth. Then they play Chester on February 6 to be followed by a game versus Roscoe on February 7 (my birthday!).
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