Tonawanda News —
North Tonawanda guard Joe Piotrowski never knew what it felt like to beat a Tonawanda team — until Friday night.
The junior scored 13 points, including eight straight at the end of the third quarter that ultimately propelled his team to a 48-43 win over Tonawanda.
Piotrowski was excited and proud of the way his team played after the game.
"We lost T-NT in basketball the past two years so it's exciting to come out and get a win on our home floor," he said. "I thought they played great defense though, pressuring our point guards up the court and make us go faster than we wanted to."
The Jacks (1-2) trailed 33-32 with under a minute remaining in the third quarter after leading for the majority of the game. The Warriors (1-2), on a 12-5 run to end the quarter, seemed poised to take control of the game after a dismal shooting performance for most of the night.
That's when Piotrowski took over. After a 3-pointer by Warriors point guard Ben Stich, Piotrowski brought the ball up court and scored on a one-dribble drive to the basket from the 3-point line. On the Jacks' next possession the Warriors forced an errant pass from NT forward Chris Woodard that went over the half-court line, which would have resulted in an over-and-back violation. But the referee said to play on, motioning that the ball had been deflected.
So NT guard Nehemiah Stone took a few dribbles and whipped the ball up to Piotrowski who sunk a buzzer-beating runner from beyond the arc to give his team a four-point advantage heading to the final quarter. That turned the momentum of the game and Jacks never trailed again in the contest.
"Piotrowski made a couple of huge plays when we needed them," NT coach Ryan Mountain said. "The 3 off the backboard to end the third and the loose ball hustle play. He was great tonight."
Warriors coach Hank Hughes said the momentum swing of that play had a huge impact on the game.
"We thought it was an over and back, but that was huge and tough to swallow. That was a big momentum change there," he said.
The Warriors struggled from the field throughout the game, partly because of the stingy NT defense. Stich missed countless shots and just kept chucking all night long. The surprising return of injured senior Clayton Hess (ankle) gave Tonawanda a boost — as he finished with 12 points — but it wasn't enough.
Lumberjacks forward Alex Billie keyed the defense, and specifically did a good job against Hess and Warriors forward Connor Pumm in limiting their inside opportunities. His help defense near the basket was a difference-maker in the game.
"On one possession late in the game Alex was on the floor near halfcourt then a few seconds later he was on the floor underneath the basket," Mountain said. "He played more minutes than usual this game because Tonawanda is so big and rebounding is the key. He was huge on both ends of the floor. He did a lot of nice things."
Pumm finished with 11 points for the Warriors and Hughes was thrilled with the way he played, coming off a few disappointing performances to begin the season.
Hughes said his team's struggles came back to poor shooting.
"We just missed shots, that's all. I've never seen Clayton and Ben that cold ever in my life — at practices or at games," he said. "We just didn't hit any shots. I think we ran our offense better today, but we were just cold."
NT forward Michael Awod had eight points off the bench and provided a spark in the second quarter with six of those points. Jacks guard Nehemiah Stone had eight points, four assists, four rebounds and two steals, and played his best basketball late in the fourth quarter to help his team secure the victory.
Billie said the win was a complete team effort.
"Our goal at the beginning of the game was to shut down (Hess) and (Stich) and I think we did a good job on that," he said. "I think it was a great team win."
Contact Sports Editor Matt Parrino at 693-1000 ext. 4117 and find Tonawanda News Sports on Twitter @tonanewssports.