The Amherst Boys Basketball team returned to the scene of its Section VI Class A Championship on Tuesday night, and the Tigers played like a team that’s very comfortable in the big spotlight at Buffalo State.
“I embrace it,” senior guard Josh Bugiera said after leading Amherst to a rousing 66-38 victory over Starpoint in the A-2 semifinals. “We had a great run here last year. We felt like this was almost our home floor.”
It showed. The Tigers were without two players, including Antonio Andrews, their third-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder. They also got a rare off night from senior Nick Moore, one of the top players in Western New York.
But it’s the sign of a strong program when a team can withstand those sorts of issues and respond with its best game. Using their suffocating man-to-man defense, Amherst took over the game a 12-0 run late in the second quarter.
Bugiera, whose opportunistic defense helped the Tigers forced countless Starpoint turnovers, scored 10 of his game-high 21 points in the second quarter. Amherst led, 37-20, at the half, and Starpoint never threatened thereafter.
“We pride ourselves on team defense and making the extra pass,” said Amherst head coach Chris Kensy. “It’s amazing what happens when no one cares who’s getting most of the work. We just want to win and move on and see another day.
“Two kids were sick,” Kensy said. “So we definitely had some adversity. But it’s next man up and we don’t train for just five or six guys. We train for all 17 of us.”
Junior Amir Dunn, who started with Andrews out, had a season-high 11 points and a sensational floor game. Moore, who leads the Tigers in every statistical category, had 12 points. Sophomore forward Jack Kempf had 11 points for Starpoint, which finished the season at 11-11.
Amherst (19-3) will meet divisional rival Williamsville South, which beat South Park in the other semifinal, in the A-2 title game at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Buffalo State.
The Tigers have been looking to March ever since reaching the state semifinals a year ago and losing by two to New Hartford. They were the first Amherst team to advance to the state semis after winning sectional overall title and Far West Regional.
But they feel they have unfinished business. It’s been their goal from the start of the season to get back to that point, and go a little farther.
“Oh, a hundred percent,” Kensy said. “We were able to get New Hartford back early this year (a non-league win in late December), but they want to go further. And I definitely like our shot if we continue to play team defense and team offense the way we did tonight.”
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