Tonawanda News — Coming into the season, Kenmore West coach Mike Meetze made it clear to guard Noah Whalen that he would need more from him this season.
Friday night, Whalen would come through bigger than ever before. Whalen had a game-best 25 points and seven rebounds as the Blue Devils topped North Tonawanda, 61-51, in a wild Niagara Frontier League varsity basketball game that was played at the Alumni-Student Activity Center.
Unhappy with his performance against McKinley in their opening night loss on Dec. 5, Whalen vowed to get back on track versus NT and be the player his team needs him to be.
“I just felt amazing,” Whalen said. “I had a rough McKinley game. I was like 0-for-6 shooting threes. Tonight I just came with the mindset I've just got to shoot the ball. Big time players gotta come in big time games.”
Whalen, who collected seven rebounds on the night, hit five monumental 3-pointers for his team that all came at crucial junctures in the game, the biggest of which came at the start of the fourth to put the Blue Devils (2-0 in NFL) up 42-37 and gave them back the momentum after NT's Nehemiah Stone (18 points/four assists/four steals) hit a half-court, buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of the third that electrified the NT faithful and cut the Ken West lead to 39-37.
“I can't say enough about Noah,” said coach Meetze. “I know he wasn't happy with his first game against McKinley. He told me coach I'm gonna come back. I'm glad he did it in a league game.”
Meetze said he challenged his guards — Whalen, Alex Price and Terrell Ford — to do more from behind the arc. They gave their word and delivered on that promise.
“We kind of joked the other day, last year when we made our run, our guards carried us,” said Meetze. “In the Buff State (semifinal game v. Falls) and the (quarterfinals) Will-North we were hitting eight, nine threes a game. I looked at Price, Terrell and Noah and said in two games you guys have combined for two. We need to hit some threes tonight. They looked at me and said coach, maybe tonight we'll be due. And obviously they did. Our guards combined for everything but seven of the 61 points. Three guys.”
“I love playing in this gym,” Whalen said of the ASAC. “I've had some of my best games have been in this gym. I love the rims here. It worked out great.”
The Jacks, who had the edge in height, were coming off of a win over Niagara Falls, a game where they had little trouble against the Wolverines press. But the Blue Devils used the speed of its guards to disrupt the the NT offense. Adam Fron (eight rebounds) and Tyler Grandits were examples of the blue-collar defense the Blue Devils will need to find continued success this season.
"(Our confidence) is through the roof,” Whalen said. “But we've got to come back (this morning) and work. We've got Lockport on Tuesday.”
A loss was one thing, but knowing his team is capable of a better outing it what made this loss sting a little more for NT coach Ryan Mountain.
“Ken West played better than we did,” Mountain said. “They shot the ball better than we did and we shot poorly.”
The marque match up of the night in WNY, the game didn't disappoint as the Jacks and Blue Devils fought tooth-and-nail for every inch of the floor and every single point. A back-and-forth game most of the night, the scored was tied at 9-9 at the end of the first. A Terrell Ford (15 points) bucket late in the second gave Ken West the 22-21 lead at halftime.
Alex Price had 14 points and 14 boards for the Blue Devils. Chris Woodard had six points and eight boards for NT while Joe Piotrowski added eight for the Jacks.