By Matt Parrino
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News —
TOWN OF TONAWANDA — The North Tonawanda boys basketball team seemed on the verge of handing Kenmore West its first Niagara Frontier loss of the season Tuesday night.
But in the final moments, after Kenmore West tied the game on a Adam Fron layup with five seconds remaining, Ken West senior Noah Whalen stole the NT inbounds pass out of the hands of Jacks guard Joe Piotrowski and exploded to the basket for the game-winning bucket. The Lumberjacks weren't able to get a shot off and the Blue Devils completed the comeback, winning 43-40 in dramatic fashion.
"We drew up a play for Adam From and we just wanted to tie the game up and get the game to overtime. Adam got the bucket and NT was trying to come down to get a basket and try and win the game," Whalen said. "Piotrowski had the ball, and as he turned his head to go I just poked my hand in there and I just thought, 'We need to win this game. Go score the basket.' It was a natural instinct."
Whalen, who scored a team-high 12 points, was also fouled on the basket but missed the free throw. Ken West's Trent White grabbed the rebound and made 1 of 2 from the line to put the Blue Devils up three with 1.1 seconds remaining. NT took a timeout but couldn't get a shot off as time expired.
The Blue Devils (10-2, 9-0 NFL) struggled to score. NT (8-4, 6-3 NFL) held Ken West to 32 percent from the field for the game, and the Blue Devils went scoreless for a near 12-minute stretch between the second and third quarters.
Ken West coach Mike Meetze used every play in his book during the game to try and score the basketball, but there just seemed to be a lid on the basket for the his Blue Devils.
"I have never been a part of a game where we executed well but we could not finish. I've never felt that helpless," Meetze said. "I looked at all my plays and said, 'We've gotten every shot we wanted and I can't will that ball into the basket.'
"(But) it's a credit to NT," he continued. "We missed some chippies, but you're playing a zone team you have to make shots at some time. That's been my big fear all year, and I'd like to say we survived. I'll take the win and it was exciting."
Ken West got out to a 16-8 lead after the first quarter, but the offensive struggles started in the second, and the Jacks made their way back into the game. Donovan Book scored all 10 of his points in the first half to help the Jacks close the gap to 19-16 at halftime.
Piotrowski scored 12 of his game-high 14 points in the second half and the Jacks took back the lead and momentum on the strength of the 3-pointer. Piotrowski hit two 3s and Michael Awad hit one early in the fourth to give the Jacks a 34-31 lead with about six minutes remaining. Awad finished with 11 points and extended the NT lead to 37-33 with a little less than three minutes to play.
The Jacks held a 40-35 lead with under a minute left when Ken West senior Alex Price hit one of his three 3-pointers in the game with 35 seconds left to give the Blue Devils life. Ken West got the ball back and was able to finish out the game and capture the win.
"Right now I'm trying to slow it down and realize how we blew the game," said NT coach Ryan Mountain moments after his team's loss. "I think it just comes down to we were afraid to win and it isn't anything to do with execution — just trying to play with a quiet mind when we're under pressure. We missed some crucial free throws that could have iced it and when it comes down to it it comes down to the little things. We lost the last couple seconds on the details."
Meetze was happy with the way his team hung in the game despite its shooting troubles.
"We just stuck with it and we didn't lose faith," he said. "The bench was fired up and everyone was positive in every timeout. The defense did what it needed to, we caused some turnovers but we just couldn't really convert. You're going to have those nights in sectionals so I think this is a game that will go a long way to helping us."
"We shot 9 for 26 from the free throw line throughout the night, and we couldn't hit shots like we usually do," Whalen said. "That's what teams want to do to us. It definitely had a sectional feel to the game, and we knew we had to fight through adversity to get the win."Follow @tonanewssports and sports editor @MattParrino on Twitter for complete high school sports coverage.