SINCLAIRVILLE - Apparently, someone forgot to remind the Cassadaga Valley boys basketball team that it was playing its first game of the season - not the 14th - on Thursday evening.
Not that coach Rich Clifford was complaining.
Taking a lead they would never relinquish less than two minutes into the opening frame, the Cougars did just about everything right, on both ends of the court, in their 63-32 non-league, season-opening victory over visiting Pine Valley.
Photo by Rob?Tucker
Cassadaga Valley’s David?Carlson pulls down a rebound during Thursday’s non-league boys’ high school basketball game against Pine?Valley.
Defensively, the Cougars rebounded, got their hands on entry passes, switched screens - or fought through them - moved their feet and reacted quickly to backdoor cuts - something the Panthers were keen on trying throughout the game. Offensively, meanwhile, the victors ran, passed, cut, screened, rolled, sealed, got to the free throw line (and sunk 15 of 18) and, most important of all, hit a variety of shots from all over the court.
Not bad for a group with just one returning starter.
"I'm tickled; very pleased with the first game," Clifford said. "We are so inexperienced and young, but everyone played together as a team. A bunch of guys scored, they made a lot of good passes and had a lot of nice assists. I'm just really happy."
Three different players reached double-figures, led by the squad's lone returner, Mike Lancaster, who tallied a game-high 18 points to go along with four blocks, three assists and three steals. Along with Lancaster, Tim Bender had 14 points, three assists and two steals; Randy Dalaba recorded a near double-double with 10 points and nine rebounds; and point guard Kyle Ruge, though scoring only seven points, dished five assists and swiped four passes.
It was Lancaster, however, who set the tone early.
After a missed shot and consecutive turnovers over their first three offensive trips, the swingman put the Cougars on the board when he scored down low following a pass from Ruge. Next he ranged wide and sunk a triple from the right wing to make the advantage, one it would never lose, 7-4. A minute later he hit yet another trey - from the same spot - and, following the team's third 3-pointer of the quarter, this one by Ruge, Lancaster took the ball to the hoop himself for the easy layup, making the score 15-8 with a little more than two minutes remaining in the quarter.
In all, Lancaster accounted for 10 of Cassadaga Valley's 17 first-quarter points.
All the while, Pine Valley struggled to find the bottom of the net. Senior Lucas Trombley, who led the Panthers with 14 points and five rebounds, netted six of the team's eight points in the first quarter, but his last bucket came with 2:34 remaining. From there, combination of a strong defensive effort by the Cougars and the usual first-game unforced turnovers kept the Panthers without a basket for the next six minutes, and they only managed three more field goals by the break, allowing Cassadaga Valley to go on a 24-7 run over that span.
"We're inexperienced," Pine Valley coach Mark Mansfield said, "so I figured it was going to be a little rough to start. And we stopped running our offense in the second quarter so that really stalled things. But again, we're just young and inexperienced and they've got to learn to stick with it."
With Pine Valley missing shots, Cassadaga Valley used the opportunity to get out on the fast break and, in so doing, got to the foul line with greater frequency. In addition to a pair of Bender 3s, one of which was in transition, the Cougars connected on 7 of 8 free throws in the period to help them reach a healthy, 22-point advantage, 37-15, by halftime.
"Speed-wise, this is probably as fast as we've been, and we have to utilize that speed," Clifford said. "We don't have a lot of experience or domineering size, so we have to turn our speed into points. And I think they did that today."
Though the Panthers had a better showing in the second half - they were outscored by just four in the third frame, 12-8, and five in the fourth, 14-9 - by then the deficit was too large to overcome.
They are hoping, however, that their improved play late in the game translates into a better showing when these two squads square off again, this time at Pine Valley, on Monday.
"The guys kept playing hard and we'll just be looking for a little improvement each week," Mansfield said. "We turn right around and Cassadaga Valley comes to us next week, so we'll see right away whether we're improving."