Diaz scores 24, leads Fenton over Woodstock North
Woodstock North played just well enough to keep Fenton within reach and not let the Bison get too comfortable.
But the Thunder could not close the deal.
Every time North rallied to make it a one-possession lead, Fenton had the answer as the Bison came away with a 63-58 victory Thursday in the first round of the 72nd Annual E.C. Nichols Holiday Classic at Homer "Bill" Barry Gym.
"In the second half, our defense was way better than we played in the first half," said Thunder guard Cesar Ortiz, who led all players with 28 points. "We just couldn't get over that bump we needed to get that lead."
Fenton (10-3) jumped ahead midway through the first quarter with guard Brandon Block's 17-footer and three driving layups from forward Alejandro Diaz, who led the Bison with 24 points. The lead was never bigger than 10 nor smaller than three points in the last three quarters.
"Early we hit those big shots that put us in the lead," Diaz said. "We were moving the ball well, especially in the first few minutes (against North's man-to-man defense). Move the ball around and found open gaps. With the 2-3, we got the ball in the middle well and kicked it out to our shooters."
Bison coach Chaz Taft knew his players would need to adjust to North switching things up. They did well, hitting 61.5% (16 of 26) in the first half and 54.2% (26 of 48) for the game.
"I liked how we moved the ball," Taft said. "We got wide-open shots, we didn't force it. We shared the ball and got a comfortable lead.
"We talked in the locker room. We have a 1:30 game, an hour on the bus, some adversity you have to fight through and play basketball. We're on break, so it's all hoops. Our finals are over with, just concentrate on hoops and let's go."
All five Bison starters scored in the first quarter. Guard Caleb Lewis scored 16 points, forward Nick Tinajero added nine and Block scored eight.
Fenton pushed the lead to 44-34 with 4:20 remaining in the third quarter, but Ortiz scored 10 of his total in that period and the Thunder closed the gap to 44-41 with 1:15 in the third on Justin Chase's third 3-pointer.
Isaac Salas opened the fourth quarter with a layup to make it 46-43, but the Thunder could not get closer than that. Salas' rebound basket with 1:19 to go made it 57-53, but Diaz iced the game away hitting 6 of 6 free throws in the final 1:14.
"We couldn't guard anybody in the first half and we weren't ready," Thunder coach Dale Jandron said. "In the second half, we made a difference, we got out and guarded them.
"In the second half, we played great, the best we've played all year. It was one of those games you wish you could have gotten over the hump. We were right there and we throw a ball away or don't get a handle in the lane."
Chase scored 11 points for North and Gabe Filetti, who hit two 3s early in the game, added nine points.
North forced five of Fenton's 11 turnovers in its third-quarter run.
"We tried some pressure and gave them different looks," Ortiz said. "My team gave me the ball and told me to go to work. With (Fenton's 1-3-1) zone, we have to get the ball in the middle. They gave me the ball more."