Neuqua Valley boys basketball coach Todd Sutton had called Pleasure Ridge Park the most talented team the Wildcats will face all year.
What does that make Neuqua Valley?
If nothing else, Saturday’s 67-55 victory over the Kentucky team made Neuqua champion of the 47th annual East Aurora Holiday Tournament, going 4-0 in its debut there and improving to 14-0.
“That’s a wonderful basketball team there,” said Pleasure Ridge coach Dale Malbrey, whose Panthers placed third last season at East Aurora on the way to a 26-7 record.
“They’re very smart, they’re very athletic, they shoot the ball very well, they don’t turn the ball over very often. So you’re looking at a fine basketball team there,” Malbrey said.
Pleasure Ridge (10-4) entered the final day averaging 82.7 points, its full-court man-to-man press turning defense to offense. Neuqua Valley countered with the tourney’s top defense, less than 46 points a game.
The Wildcats, led in scoring by Pat Kenny’s 19 points but netting at least 6 points by fellow all-tournament pick Jabari Sandifer as well as Darien Miskel, Elijah Robertson, Connor Raridon and Trevor Davis, committed just 11 turnovers until the last 1:32 of the game.
“I just thought our execution was outstanding,” said Sutton, up to 311 wins at Neuqua, 473 overall.
Neuqua out-rebounded the Panthers 35-30 and shot 48 percent from the floor to Pleasure Ridge’s 39 percent. Tourney MVP LaMontray Harris scored 11 points, 3 in the first half.
“I think it was our defense the whole tournament,” said Kenny, the 6-foot-4 center. “It’s been that all year. I think it’s our defense, our balance and then our depth. I think our guys on the bench are really good and they showed that all through the tournament.”
Instead of forcing turnovers Pleasure Ridge coughed up 8 in the first quarter. The Panthers led 12-10 at 2:02 but Miskel and Kenny combined for an 8-0 run to close the quarter.
Neuqua’s lead increased to 25-12 at 6:51 of the second quarter on Zach Incaudo’s inside hoop after a Davis offensive rebound, though the Panthers tightened it to 33-26 at halftime.
Again handling pressure and controlling tempo, point guard Sandifer — 7 rebounds, 8 assists, just 2 turnovers — Kenny, Davis and Josh Piotrowski paced a third quarter that had Neuqua up 50-34 entering the fourth.
A last gasp by Panthers all-tourney guard Antonio McDaniels cut the deficit to 57-45 with 3:33 to play. A Sandifer lay-in, Robertson’s three-point play and a Brad Mikulecky lay-in pushed it back to 64-45 with 1:32 left.
“We just had to keep them out of running because that’s where they score all their points,” Sandifer said. “They would just press and get turnovers and score layups. We handled the press and stopped them in the half-court.”Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.