GENEVA — Upgraded over the last year, the newly renovated gymnasium at Geneva High School has already seen its fair share of games. On Friday night, it hosted a great one.
The Lyons boys basketball team fell just short of knocking off powerhouse Northstar Christian Academy, falling 88-84, in an electric holiday tournament game.
Down by three points to Northstar, the 2018 New York State Class C Championship runner-up, with 1:10 left in regulation, Lyons head coach Dean Schott II called a timeout. With players on both sides fighting to catch their breath and the noise level hitting its limits, Schott made his move.
“I told the team that we can’t hide anymore in our zone defense,” said Schott. “We are coming out and going man-to man.
As the clock hit one minute to go, Lyons senior captian David Weaver pounded his hands together as he guarded his man — one on one. It had been nearly one minute prior when the Lions (7-1) faced a nine-point deficit.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the senior leadership on this team,” added Schott. “David (Weaver) really took it upon himself to deliver for us and he even told me that he didn’t need help tonight, he could handle his matchups one on one.”
With hundreds of spectators in the packed gymnasium rising to their feet, the moment had arrived.
A bucket from Lyons senior Aaron Romero made it an 85-84 deficit. The ensuing possession for the Knights (6-0) resulted in one made free throw and an opportunity for the Lyons to tie — or better yet,win.
With less than 15 seconds left, the Lions looked for an open man but came up short.
“I blame myself on that,” said Schott. “When it got to 10 seconds and we didn’t have a good look I should have called a timeout.”
“They (Northstar) are one of the best teams in the state, and we were one possession away from winning. My kids have nothing to hang their heads about.”
For Lyons senior captain Justice Smith, the game was one for the record books.
“We fought all night,” said Smith, remarking on his team’s comeback in the fourth quarter and their unsuccessful attempt to stop Northstar senior Miles Brown.
“This team has a lot potential — we proved that tonight,” said Smith. “We have a long season ahead of us, but if we stay focused and stay calm in the face of the pressure we will do great.”
The senior also recognized his younger brother Justin Smith, Romero, sophomore Ahmir James, and junior Benji Kemp as catalysts in spurring the Lions forward throughout the night.
It was an impressive display of energy, intensity, and non-stop bleacher stomping that for Smith reminded him of a classic Lyons versus Clyde-Savannah rivalry match.
If there was any thinking by Northstar that Friday night would go over in the same fashion that last season’s Class C West Regional game against Lyons went, those visions quickly vanished.
A year removed from that 85-63 state tournament loss to Northstar, the Lions came into this matchup with unbridled confidence.
“We wanted to show no fear and that we could run with them the whole day,” said Schott. “My message to the team all week was that we are just as good as them.
“We were not going to slow this game down. I want my players to know that we win every game and we aren’t intimidated by anyone.”
The intimidation factor was not there for Northstar as the Lions, trailing 68-61 upon entering the final eight minutes, withstood several momentum swings. Justice Smith garnered 11 points in the fourth quarter, including a 3-pointer with under two minutes remaining to bring the Lions within three.
Brown proved to be challenge for the Lions to guard, and his nine fourth-quarter points, including late 3-pointers made the difference — along with the Lions’ struggles at the free-throw line.
The game opened in a hurry as the Knights raced ahead for a 12-5 lead. Two timely back-to-back shots from beyond the arc from Weaver in the opening frame made it a 24-22 deficit for the Lions.
With a 34-26 lead after one quarter, thanks in great measure to senior Michael Brown and sophomore Sean Smith, the Knights continued to assert their offensive dominance. Even still, the Knights led only 48-44 at the half — a moral victory for the Lions.
The Lions tied the game for the first time since the opening minute with 4:30 remaining in the second quarter at 40-40 and then took their first lead on a shot from Weaver 20 seconds later to make it 42-40. Senior Hunter Bastian knocked down a pair of shots and Justice and Justin Smith continued to create space with their transition offense.
A second half of adjustments and half-court pressure, of foul shots and of breakaway chances, made the game what it was. After a dunk from Justice Smith in the opening minutes of the third quarter, the noise from the bleachers didn’t let up.
It was a varsity boys basketball game in December, but it felt, as attested to by coaches and players alike, as if March madness had arrived early.