The North Tonawanda Lumberjacks knew, as an undersized team, they’d be relying heavily on their speed and aggressiveness all year.
Those same two traits have them back at Buffalo State after a one year hiatus.
The No. 2 Lumberjacks defended their home court and defeated No. 7 Sweet Home 73-52 in Section VI Class A1 quarterfinal action on Friday night.
It was apparent early NT and their aggressive defense came ready to play, as they forced multiple Panther turnovers in the opening minutes. That pressure and speed stayed consistent, and after winning the second quarter 22-10, the Jacks found themselves up big, 41-24, at halftime.
They didn’t look back from there.
“We’re small, we’re fast, and we’re unselfish and we just wanted to come at people like piranha this year,” North Tonawanda coach Ryan Mountain said. “I think us being at home was a huge advantage. We were able to turn them over frequently.”
Entering the second half up big, NT didn’t fall into a lull.
A 4-point play from senior Jordan Cutter (team-high 16 points) got the Jacks on the board in the third quarter, and set the tone for another dominant half.
The Panthers weren’t able to cut their deficit to anything less than 15, as four Jacks finished in double figures.
“[Team basketball] is very important, it’s the number one thing we say,” Cutter said. “We make a pass, and that kid might be open, but there’s always someone else who’s wide open, and we always try and look for that one … It feels so great when we have a team where everyone is contributing, not just one person.”
Sweet Home senior center Daequan Hill put in a solid performance, managing a game-high 24 points, but cold shooting and turnovers plagued the Panthers all night.
Next up for the Lumberjacks will be a showdown with No. 3 seed McKinley, who is coming off a 100-71 quarterfinal victory over Hutch Tech. Both the Macks and NT carry high-scoring and quick offenses, meaning this semifinal could wind up being a shootout.
The game is set for a 7:45 p.m. start on Mar. 2 at Buffalo State.
“McKinley is going to be excited, we’re going to be excited, and at this point, there isn’t a whole lot of pressure,” Mountain said. “Obviously, both teams will be going to win, but the bottom line is we’re going to play as hard as we can, we’re going to play team basketball, and we’re going to try and play the smartest game possible.”