BY BRIAN CREMO
Neither Ballston Spa nor Niskayuna were able to take control of Friday night’s Class AA basketball tournament opener — that is, until the beginning of the fourth quarter, when Andrew Gentile dropped three shots from beyond the arc in under three minutes. Gentile’s outburst sparked the Scotties late and helped the team out-score the Silver Warriors 28-19 in the final eight minutes en route to a 60-50 win.
“We’ve just been playing great basketball these last three games,” Gentile said. “My teammates did a great job finding me and the crowd got into it.”
Gentile ended the game with 14 points, nine coming in the fourth quarter. His teammate Daniel Kaplan dropped 11 of his 16 points in the final quarter to help close out the victory for the Scotties (6-10, 7-11 overall).
“(Gentile)’s really been coming along this season,” Ballston Spa head coach John Lea said. “He’s working out hard. He has a great shot, he’s gaining confidence as he goes and I’m proud of him. He hit the open looks.”
Until the fourth, the largest lead of the game for either team was five points. There were eight lead changes in the first quarter, setting the tone for a somewhat sloppy game of turnovers where neither team could pull away. Heading into the fourth quarter the Silver Warriors (3-13, 3-14 overall) looked to be gaining some momentum after a 7-3 run left them trailing by one.
But Gentile’s threes started what would be a 12-0 run in the opening minutes of the fourth.
“We turned it over a little bit in those segments,” Niskayuna head coach Ian McShane said. “When you don’t get a good shot and you’re forced to scramble back on defense that’s where we gave up some open threes. They made them. Give them credit.”
After the 12-0 run, McShane called a timeout to settle his team down. They were able to retaliate with a 6-0 run of their own, grabbing three offensive rebounds in one possession and finally converting to close the score to 44-37. But that would be as close as they would come.
After holding the Scotties to three shots from downtown in the first three quarters, Niskayuna would give up six threes in the final quarter. The Silver Warriors found themselves playing back against an attacking Ballston Spa offense, unable to defend the drive-and-pop to the outside.
“We started moving the basketball, started working together, hitting guys at the right opportune time and the shots fell,” Lea said. “It’s just like I’ve been telling these guys all year, ‘It begins on defense and it ends on defense. You work hard on the defensive end and shots will come.’”
The Scotties’ aggressiveness was indeed starting on the defensive end, as Niskayuna struggled to get clean looks. When they did penetrate to the bucket 6-foot-4 Andrew Edgerton was often there to alter the shot or deflect it.
Although Edgerton, the team’s second leading scorer, was held to just six points, he set the defensive tempo early in the first quarter when he rejected a Niskayuna 3-point attempt in the corner.
“(Edgerton)’s such an important piece to us,” Lea said. “He really is, and I don’t think Andre understands how good he really is. He’s like our anchor inside. He had probably 12, 11 boards, seven or eight blocks. He was just huge.”
The Scotties lost in a low scoring matchup to Niskayuna two weeks ago on Feb. 1 in a game where Lea decided to show Niskayuna a zone defense. In Friday night’s matchup, he committed to strictly playing aggressive man-to-man.
Niskayuna’s Brandon Fine had 17 points to lead all scorers and was the lone Silver Warrior in double digits.
After the opening round victory, the Scotties will look to maintain their aggressive defense and hot shooting from beyond the arc as they ride their three-game winning streak into their next game, against No. 1 seed Christian Brothers Academy on Tuesday, Feb. 19 at 7 p.m.
“This team, once they play together, they’re not a bad team at all,” Lea said. “We have to play together and believe in what we’re doing … We’re going to go to CBA, which everybody knows is a very strong program, with an open mind. We’re not going to go there and lay down. That’s an excellent program, but I’ll tell you something right now, Ballston Spa ain’t too shabby themselves.”
For Scotties guard and key facilitator Jeremy Mendrick, now is as good a time as any for an upset.
“CBA’s a great team obviously, but if we were to upset them, I think now is the time because we’re just clicking right now,” said Mendrick. “We’re on a roll.”
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