After a win against East Aurora on Thursday, snapping a four-game losing streak, the Bartlett boys basketball team was looking to get back to .500 in Upstate Eight Conference Valley Division play.
Unfortunately for the Hawks, another poor shooting night doomed them from the start. Valley leader Neuqua Valley led from start to finish, beating host Bartlett 65-50.
Scoring just 7 points in the first quarter and only getting 15 in the second, the Hawks (14-11, 4-6) were down by 15 going into halftime thanks to a Wildcat defense that was worked on a lot over the week.
"I was thrilled that the hard work in practice paid off on the court," Wildcats coach Todd Sutton said. "It was the boring stuff that we worked on, but it worked. I thought our defense and defensive rebounding was very good in the first half."
Neuqua Valley held the Hawks to just 20 percent from the field, and only 5 total baskets in the first half.
The one sore spot was on offense at the free-throw line for the Wildcats (17-6, 9-1), where they made just 17 of their 28 attempts. Connor Raridon, along with John Piotrowski, was one of the few Neuqua players get to the line and hit their shots. Raridon finished with 13 points while Piotrowski had 10.
The free-throw shooting turned out to be a nonissue as the Wildcats led the whole way by at least 6 points after opening the game on an 8-0 run, thanks in large part to post player Zach Incaudo.
Incaudo is finally healthy after an injury early in the season and he hit the first three shots of the game, the first coming just seconds after winning the tip from an assist by guard Demond George, and was a dominate force down low, snagging 6 rebounds and finishing with a game-high 16 points, all in the paint.
"It's only been a week and a half since I thought he was 100 percent and he's had real good games and practices since then," Sutton said of Incaudo. "He broke his foot in October and has had a real slow recovery. But he's moving and he's jumping, he just looks like he's 100 percent."
Bartlett knew it would have its hands full if Incaudo was able to score easily, but it took time for the Hawks to move the big man off his spot.
"The same thing happened to us against East Aurora, their post got easy post up points," Hawks coach Jim Wolfsmith said about Incaudo. "It's like we need to get knocked in the teeth before we realize that we have to be physical and force those guys out two, even one foot from where they want to be."
Whereas Neuqua struggled from the charity stripe, Bartlett thrived, hitting 21 of 28 from the line. Ryan DiCanio finished with 13 points, but only had 3 baskets on the night, going 7 of 8 from the free-throw line to try and get the Hawks back into the game.
Justin Busch added 11 points while also hitting one of only 3 3-pointers in the game by Bartlett despite the team taking 20 shots from beyond the arc. Cal Pauletti (8 points) and Mike Ourth had the other two.
In the second half almost 30 fouls were called, with both teams ending up in the bonus early in the third quarter, something that was planned by Bartlett, allowing it to cut the lead to seven with 5 minutes left in the game after trailing by 18 going into the fourth.
"One of the things you want to do when you're in a deficit is attack the rim and get foul shots, because foul shots are free shots and stopped clock shots," Wolfsmith said. "The way you come back in a game like this is you try to get to the line and try to make them have to go to their bench because of fouls."
In the end it was not enough for the Hawks as Neuqua Valley kept extending its lead until the final buzzer had sounded.
Both teams have a week off before getting back to division action, with Neuqua Valley going on the road to East Aurora on Feb. 13 while the Hawks stay at home and play that same East Aurora team on Feb. 15.