Tonawanda News — Last season the North Tonawanda boys basketball team almost pulled off the impossible.
On the road in the quarterfinal round of sectionals, the Lumberjacks gave Niagara Falls everything it could handle, and even led at halftime.
Tonight the No. 4-seed Jacks (12-6, 9-5 NFL) look to break through and punch their ticket to Buffalo State when they host No. 5-seed Sweet Home (11-8, 8-4 ECIC II) at NT at 7 p.m.
Jacks guard Joe Piotrowski said last season’s loss against the Falls was a big learning experience.
“It was a confidence booster that showed us that we can play with the best, that we were at that level that they were at,” he said. “They went on a little run to start the third, and then we cut it to four late, and then they hit their shots. We definitely learned from that and we kind of saw that we can come together and play with anybody. We’re not scared of anyone going into the playoffs.”
The Panthers are a speedy team that relies on their guard play. Brandon Smiley and big man James Nix like to keep opposing defenses off balance, and NT coach Ryan Mountain said it will be important for his team to play good defense.
“Their strength is their athleticism. They’re a very fast-paced team. They create a lot of scoring off of their turnovers,” he said. “Smiley is an exceptional athlete, one of the best that we’re going to face all season. They have two very quick guards that can penetrate, and they can score and dish well. Nix is a good center who can score inside and out, and he’s great at protecting the rim. They average about 59 points per game.
“Fortunately we’re only giving up about 45 per game,” Mountain continued. “We’re very proud about that. It’s going to be a tremendous challenge for us on the defensive end. I think it’s going to come down to shots that seem easy, but are the result of hard work, 50-50 balls and rebounding. It’s going to come down to the little things.”
Piotrowski said the Jacks are an experienced group, and they’ll be prepared for anything come game time.
“I think we’ve all been playing for at least a couple of years now on varsity. I don’t think the game is too big for us,” he said. “I think we all understand what’s at stake and what’s going on and the position we’re in. I think late last year at Niagara Falls, maybe that game was too big for us. We weren’t there yet, and I think this year we’ve raised our level of play. After that game, we definitely saw that we can play with anyone.”