The rescheduling gods offered up Riverside at North Tonawanda today, and I couldn't stay away.
The matchup of one of the Niagara Frontier League's best and one of the Yale Cup's best went heavily to Riverside, 67-57, thanks to an outstanding, 22-4 third quarter by the Frontiers.
Both teams were coming off solid wins against quality opponents on Friday evening, as NT beat Grand Island while Riverside routed Bennett.
The Frontiers were extremely impressive in the third quarter, playing killer defense and composed on offense. They are certainly going to be a force in the Yale Cup -- and they should be getting starting big man Ira Watkins back next week.
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The first half was evenly played, with Riverside up, 17-12, after one quarter and the teams tied at 25-25 at halftime. NT's Aaron Davis was out for the last portion of the second quarter but returned for the second half with what appeared to be a bandage on his nose.
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One of the most entertaining things of the first half was when supremely passionate Riverside coach Ron Killinger was so upset with a questionable offensive charge call that he paced behind the bench and actually kept walking through a doorway to disappear out of sight for a moment. He came back soon and even had a smile and a pat on the back for the official he was fired up at.
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Riverside's Isaiah Jefferson had a fine all-around game: scoring, rebounding and passing. Near the end of the first quarter he zipped a one-handed overhand pass through the lane to Ricky Mercado for a layup and a 17-10 lead.
Mercado also finished a fast-break after a neat bounce pass through the lane to start the second quarter with a 19-12 lead for the Frontiers. Mercado did the passing on then next play that got a 'star' in my notebook: He pushed the ball down the right side, and pulled off a quick, slick move in going behind his back in traffic before dropping the ball off to Jefferson on the left side for a layup and a 21-21 game.
Riverside started the second half with some major energy on the boards and the defensive end, which helped force several NT turnovers and sent an unselfish Frontiers team off to score.
Jefferson hit a jumper and a follow-basket, then found Sheldon Brown for a baseline jumper. Brown added a tip-in, and Jefferson finished a powerful drive off a setup by Jordan Spearman for a 35-27 lead. Riverside would then score 12 straight points, starting with two daggers -- back-to-back three-pointers by Brown from the same exact spot on the right side.
Another highlight shot had 4 finishing off a two-on-one thanks to a draw-and-dish, behind-the-back pass by Spearman for a 45-27 lead. NT scored just its second basket of the quarter with 35 seconds left, leaving Riverside with the ball and coaches and players calling "one shot."
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The Frontiers spread the offense out and worked the clock down until it left Jefferson with the ball up high. He blasted by his defender into the lane, drew a defender and fed 10 for a layup just before the buzzer. Textbook.
The lead would reach 21 in the fourth quarter. NT did an excellent job extending the game's final three minutes, but still-composed Riverside responded by hitting free throws and, for the most part, taking care of the ball. A three-pointer by NT's Kevin Miller made it a 56-44 game with 2:40 left; the closest the Jacks would get would be 63-55 with 32 seconds to go.
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Speaking of rescheduled games, check out next weekend: Grover Cleveland at Canisius at 3 p.m. Saturday and St. Joe's at St. Mary's on Sunday (and at 1:30 p.m. you'll be home in plenty of time for your Super Bowl party).