DRYDEN — Thursday was a big night as Dryden hosted Whitney Point in a crucial Interscholastic Athletic Conference North Large School Division boys’ basketball contest with the division title at stake.
Both teams came in with 5-3 division records, one-half game behind Lansing who is 6-3. Whitney Point got big second- half efforts from Tanner Kalifelz and Aaron Austenfeld as the Eagles went on to defeat the Purple Lions 54-36.
The visitors jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead and only allowed the Purple Lions to within three points twice in the first quarter and to within 32-27 with 4:24 left in the third quarter before bolting to a 41-29 advantage by the end of the third.
“We came out with energy,” Kalifelz said of the quick start. “That was our focus coming into the game. Play strong defense and a lot of energy, and that helped us throughout the game.”
Keegan Gesin scored on an offensive putback and Wes Stahlman scored on a driving lay-up as Dryden (8-8 overall) trailed 12-9 after the first quarter. Two quick buckets put Whitney Point (11-6) up 17-9 and the Eagles had a 25-16 advantage at halftime.
Dryden made its final push in the third quarter as Stahlman scored twice and Brandon Madigan added two buckets of his own to get to the 32-27 mark. Kalifelz stopped the rally with a jumper, Alexander Watson scored on a reverse lay-up and Kalifelz buried a 3-pointer from the top of the key as the visitors’ lead grew to 39-27. Austenfeld scored in the paint as Whitney Point led 41-29 after the third quarter. Kalifelz scored eight of his 15 points in the third quarter and 13 of those 15 in the second half. Austenfeld added six of his 12 points in the third quarter and 10 total points in the second half. Dawson Driscoll also scored 10 points for Whitney Point in the game.
Whitney Point had the better of the play in the fourth quarter as Dryden never really got untracked. Stahlman finished with 12 points and Gesin netted 10 points for the Purple Lions.
“When we didn’t score much in the first half our defense really helped us,” Kalifelz said. “We started moving the ballbetter and running different offenses. Everything started clicking in the second half.”
“I was really proud of the way the kids played defensively and rebounding the ball,” Whitney Point coach Steve Morgan said. “We didn’t give Dryden a lot of second-chance points, which was important. We did a good job on the Stahlman kid. The big kid (Gesin) got some looks inside, but we did limit their outside shooters. Monday they got hot from 3-point range in the fourth quarter and got back in the game. We focused on not letting them do that again.”
The Eagles won the Monday game 53-46 on their home court.
“To win games against quality opponents like Dryden you need your kids to make shots,” Morgan said. “Tanner certainly did that and we did a nice job of finding Aaron inside. When you do get it inside, he usually finishes it for you.”
“They made some runs and made some shots when they needed to,” Dryden coach Eric Hicks said. “We need to start quicker. We can’t always be fighting from behind. If you’re down by 10 and make a run of four or five points, you’re still down five. There needs to be more urgency from the opening tip.
“Give Whitney Point credit. They shoot the ball well. They’re a good team and they are well-coached. We need to be better closing out on shooters.” With the division favoring Whitney Point and Lansing, both Kalifelz and Morgan know what the Eagles need to do. “It’s the late stretch drive in the season,” Kalifelz said. “It’s a tight division. We just have to come out and perform every night.”
“This was a big game coming in because it has been a big week for us,” Morgan said. “At this point in the season when you’re in a tight battle for the title, every game is a big game. This one gives us some momentum.”
While Dryden did lose ground Thursday, the Purple Lions still have hope if they get some help.
“Lansing still has Union Springs so that could be a loss for them,” Hicks stated. “Whitney Point has Marathon and maybe Groton. I’m hoping one of my buddies (Marathon coach Jim Holland or Groton’s John D’Antonio) can step up and knock them off.”
The Purple Lions also need to win. That starts tonight with the Annual White Out Game as Southern Cayuga comes to town for a varsity only doubleheader The Dryden girls face the Chiefs at 5:30 p.m., with the varsity boys’ teams to square off at 7 p.m.