By Matt Parrino firstname.lastname@example.org
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — TOWN OF TONAWANDA — When the Kenmore West boys basketball team is able to get out and run early in games, that is when it's at its best, said Blue Devils coach Mike Meetze.
On Friday night, in the first of two meetings against rival Kenmore East, the Blue Devils got the message from Meetze and ran wild all over the Bulldogs.
"I think I had the word 'run' circled on our board about 15 times before the game. That's when we play good," Meetze said. "You go back to the Christmas tournament and I don't think we played well because we didn't run very well. … When we run we're a fun team to watch."
The Blue Devils started the first and second quarters with 9-0 and 13-0 runs, seizing complete control of the game on their way to a convincing 63-40 victory at home in front of a packed house at Ken West High School.
The Bulldogs looked suffocated early on by Ken West's defensive pressure, as the Blue Devils picked up ball handlers at mid court and smothered them. The Bulldogs had a number of turnovers early in the game and Ken West took advantage en route to a 40-15 lead at halftime to all but put the game away.
"We haven't really liked our defense recently, but I told the guards at halftime that I was impressed because our guards were boxing out their forwards," said Meetze. "I really liked how we controlled the glass — we missed a lot of shots but we got the offensive rebounds. That was my positive at halftime. We got all those rebounds because we were outworking them, and that's what I like to see."
Noah Whalen led the way for the Blue Devils, scoring a game-high 17 points.
Meetze said Whalen's improvement this season is a direct result of his hard work in the offseason.
"He played on three AAU teams and traveled to Boston and Pittsburgh, doing a lot on his own," Meetze said. "I challenged him at the end of last year to become a better defender and a more complete player, and you can see the results on the floor. At the beginning of the season I joked that a lot of people don't know who he is, and now the second time through in the league and he's being mentioned in the same breath as (Alex) Price."
Ken West's top two threats, Price and sophomore Terrell Ford, scored a quiet eight points each, and neither played much after halftime.
Sixth man Trent White scored 15 points off the bench, and Meetze said he did a nice job running the floor and hitting the glass. Tyler Grandits scored seven points and contributed on the glass for the Blue Devils.
"We know that if we start running on teams and do what we do best things will most likely go our way early," Grandits said. "We try not to let teams hang around too much and we try to just get running right away."
There weren't a ton of positives for a Ken East squad that looked frustrated as the final horn blew.
Bulldogs coach Jay Robbins said the only way his team will improve is if it starts with the basics and works hard in practice.
"We need to be a little bit better in every area. Specifically today in pregame, I said we need to be better at defense, turnovers and rebounding — were we? No," Robbins said. "So we're playing really good teams and it's tough. We have a lot of kids with no experience, and we had two kids step up today in (Conor) Hoar, who's been hurt all season, and Mike DeBenedetti.
"I finally get somebody to talk out there in Conor," Robbins continued. "Big Mike is going crazy in here — had only one or two rebounds, but at least he's showing some emotion. We've been a flatline team with no emotion, so it was nice to see those two kids show something."
Next up for the Blue Devils is a home game against Niagara-Wheatfield next Tuesday, while the Bulldogs host North Tonawanda on Monday in a makeup game.Follow on Twitter @tonanewssports and sports editor @MattParrino on Twitter for complete high school sports coverage.