When you see that a high school basketball team has scored 79 points -- as Neuqua Valley did in a 79-56 defeat of visiting East Aurora in Upstate Eight Conference Valley Division action on Friday night -- the first assumption is that the offense must have been clicking on all cylinders.
In reality, though, the foundation for an offensive explosion like that is usually laid at the other end of the floor, where defense and rebounding combine to light the fuse.
That's what happened for the Wildcats (5-2, 3-0) as they outrebounded the Tomcats 46-24 and limited them to 9-for-29 shooting on 2-point field-goal attempts, setting the stage for the easy victory.
"Defense, we got boards, we got running; that's the key, getting boards," said Neuqua coach Todd Sutton.
That sentiment was echoed by Connor Raridon, who paced the Wildcats with 15 points and 7 rebounds.
"We got stops on defense, there were a lot of missed shots by them, lots of rebounds by us and we got running," said Raridon.
The epitome of Neuqua's dominance was a third quarter in which they scored the first 12 points to turn a 39-28 halftime lead into a 51-28 edge. The period also highlighted the team's balance as five players -- Raridon, Jacob Eminger, Demond George, Josh Piotrowski and Jordon Kendrowski -- scored between 3 and 7 points for a 26-11 advantage in the quarter and 65-39 lead after three stops.
"It's a different leader every night, someone new, someone different, someone stepping up, and it's just going to make us better," Sutton said.
The Tomcats (1-6, 1-2) actually stayed within striking distance for most of the first half, trailing 18-11 after one quarter and scoring 17 points in the second as Fred Reynolds piled up 11 points and while KeJuan Davis added a pair of 3-pointers. When Davis hit two free throws 24 seconds before halftime, East Aurora's deficit was a manageable 37-28, but then Piotrowski closed the half with a bucket at the three-second mark, which set the stage for Neuqua's picture-perfect third quarter.
"In the first half we showed a lot of patience on offense, but they stuck to their game plan and then we panicked a little," said East Aurora coach Wendell Jeffries. "When it got to double digits we panicked like a young team and 10 turned into 20 real quick, then 20 turned into 30."
The Wildcat face an early-season UEC Valley litmus test when they travel to West Chicago on Saturday, while East Aurora has a nonconference date with Proviso West.