The Metea Valley boys basketball team learned Friday night that not only can pressure turn a lump of coal into a diamond, it can wake up a drowsy crowd.
The Mustangs used a suffocating fullcourt press to get the home fans whooping and hollering -- including a student section decked out in ugly Christmas sweaters -- and knock visiting Lake Park back on its heels on the way to a 64-39 Upstate Eight Conference Valley Division victory.
"We came out hard, ready to play," said senior forward Sean Davis, who scored a team-high 12 points. "The crowd was a little quiet, but I told my teammates we had to get the intensity up and we went after it right away."
The game itself started a little sleepily, as well, with the Mustangs (3-4, 2-1) holding a 5-4 lead after three minutes, but the press, which was spearheaded by sophomore point guard Bryson Oliver and helped force 28 Lake Park turnovers in the game, lit the fuse for a 14-2 Metea run and 19-6 lead. Five Mustangs scored in the stretch and Oliver recorded 2 steals and 3 assists before Nick Dodson knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers to cap the run.
"He played a great point guard position tonight," Mustang coach Bob Vozza said of Oliver, who finished with 7 points, 7 assists and 4 steals. "We've been preaching to him that he doesn't have to score, just put us in good positions to score. We've put him in a tough position, a sophomore point guard, and he's starting to do a real good job at it."
Things got worse for the Lancers (5-3, 1-2) in the first five minutes of the second quarter as the Mustangs used a 12-0 run, with 5 points from Davis and another 4 from Trayvond Taylor, to open a 31-12 lead. To its credit, Lake Park fought back, with Carlos Cortez scoring 7 of his 12 second-quarter points in a 12-3 half-ending run that left the deficit at 34-24 at the break.
"We're young and not aggressive, and when you're young and timid, aggression will expose you," said Lancers coach Josh Virostko. "The whole thing in that stretch is that we finally relaxed and executed."
That, however, was the closest the Lancers got. They reverted to their early-game ways with 7 third-quarter turnovers that defused any comeback attempt. Derek Coleman's 3-pointer gave Metea a 46-33 lead after three quarters and the advantage seesawed between 11 and 14 for most of the final quarter before the Mustangs closed the contest with a 14-0 run after the benches had been cleared.
"We just weren't ready tonight," said Lake Park senior center Jake Ktsanes. "We just stayed back and let them come to us instead of us attacking them. Once we start attacking, our shots will drop."