When the game is on the line you want the ball in the hands of your best player. Park School had that good fortune in Noah Hutchins.
Hutchins had 23 points as No.1 large school Park outlasted No.6 small school Nichols, 58-55, in a wild back and forth Monsignor Martin Athletic Association boys basketball game that was played at Gerard Gym on Tuesday night.
“I’ve been saying it all along. This league is strong,” Park coach Richard Jacob said. “We expect a fight every time out. It was another fight tonight. I thought that was a good basketball game and we came out on top and we just build from there.”
The Vikings threw the first punch as strong play down low by Chris Stineman (12 points) and a late basket by Aiden Horan (16) gave the Vikings a 13-12 lead at the end of the first.
Nichols pressure defense and up tempo play seemed to catch Park (11-1) a bit off guard.
But the Pioneers didnt panic. They played patiently as they assessed what they saw from the Vikings in the first quarter then slowly started making offensive and defensive adjustments to swing momentum in their favor.
“I think that is what happened,” Jacob said. “I thought they came out really ready and took control of the game in the first quarter, and I credit them.”
Hutchins hit a lay-up with 13.4 seconds to play, but it was him going 2-for-2 from the line with 2.8 seconds left that sealed the game.
Hutchins, like his coach, was quick to praise Nichols for a very well played game.
“I think we needed to relax a little bit. We got a little hyped up,” Hutchins said. “They kinda gave us a little punch and we didn’t know how to react at first. In the third quarter we came out a lot stronger. A lot more in control on defense.”
Jacob said Noah did what big time players do in pressure packed moments.
“Fortunately we made sure we got the ball in his hands and he does what an all-American does,” Jacob said. “Finish strong and he’s there in the clutch.”
The Vikings, who had four players with double-digits, showed what they were made of as they hung with Park until the final shot of the game.
Nichols sophomore guard Hugh Purks (12) brought his teammates to their feet when he drained a 3-pointer with 3.6 seconds to play to pull within one point, 56-55.
The Vikings had one final look when Horan launched a 3-point attempt that kissed off the rim as the buzzer went.
While the final result isn’t what they wanted, Nichols coach Joe Mihalics said that his team played hard until the final shot and proved they could compete against any team.
“Without a doubt. We were playing the best team in Western New York,” Mihalics said. “When you play physical, with energy it’s gonna pay off. I’m telling you right now we have a team that, when we’re together and playing our game, we can beat anyone in Western New York.”
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