The Sweet Home High School boys basketball team has come a long way since losing 18 games in 2015-16. On Thursday night, the Panthers took another huge step against a neighboring rival.
The Panthers led most of the way and posted a 64-56 win over Amherst in the first round of the Tigers’ 13th annual Bob Hettler Holiday Basketball Tournament, hosted by the Jolly Boys.
“It feels really good because we worked hard after losing to them in past years,” Sweet Home guard Stephon Trueheart said. “Now coming up with a win is nice. It was a hard win but it’s a good win.”
Amherst had beaten Sweet Home in each of the four previous meetings. The first two – in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons – were not competitive as the Panthers worked to rebuild. Last year was a vast improvement but still not enough for Sweet Home. The Tigers beat the Panthers in the Hettler tournament last season and again in regular season play.
“Last year, we were competitive in both games against Amherst,” third-year Panthers coach Brandon Woods said. “But their senior leadership and being a veteran team, they were able to close it out. This year, we have more of a veteran team. We still have work to do but this is a big step.”
The win moved Sweet Home’s record to 6-1. That includes five wins away from home, including a championship at the Iroquois Tip-off tournament and a huge victory in the Southerntier at perennial Class AA powerhouse Jamestown.
“The first test for us was getting big wins at Amherst and at Jamestown,” Woods said. “That’s huge for us, for our program and for these guys that have been with me for three years since my first year when we were 3-18. We were 9-11 last year and to be 6-1 so far this year, it says a lot about where we’re heading.”
Trueheart led Sweet Home with 12 points and eight assists. Daequan Hill added 11 points and Marjohn Manuel 10 points, Matthew Nix added nine points, Dylan McDuffie eight and Evan John seven for the Panthers.
Sophomore Daesean Ashley was a force inside for the Tigers (4-3) and led all scorers with 28 points.
“We allowed Ashley to get into the paint,” Woods said. “That’s something that we were focused on but he’s a handful.”
Sweet Home plays North Tonawanda at 6:30 p.m. Friday for the tournament championship. The Lumberjacks beat Cheektowaga Central 69-60 in the tournament’s other semifinal. Amherst faces old ECIC III rival Cheektowaga at 5 p.m. today
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NT also led throughout the game but Cheektowaga battled back to tied the game in the fourth quarter. NT regained the lead for good midway through the final period on a bucket by senior captain Trevor Book and made the played it needed to down the stretch.
“Cheektowaga made us grind this victory out, we knew they would,” NT coach Ryan Mountain said. “We anticipated the game being decided in the fourth quarter and it was. We were able to make the plays we needed to make at the end.”