Coming in with a 9-game losing streak, the East Aurora boys basketball team needed a win.
Not only did the Tomcats get that win on Saturday against Bartlett, they picked up their first road win of the season and first win of 2014 with a 67-61 victory in Upstate Eight Conference Valley Division play. To top it off, East Aurora coach Wendell Jeffries earned his 200th career victory, and the Tomcats avenged a 60-59 loss against Bartlett last week.
However, it took a 27-13 third quarter for the Tomcats (5-18, 2-10) to overcome a 35-24 halftime deficit as the Hawks (14-12, 4-7) came out strong on their Senior Night.
“I think they just decided they wanted to play in the second half,” Jeffries said.
Bartlett never trailed in the first half and led by as much as 38-26 after senior Kevin Wantroba (7 points) hit a 3-pointer early in the third quarter.
East Aurora then rallied behind senior Jonathan Villezcas, who scored 13 of his game-high 18 points and grabbed 6 of his game-high 10 rebounds in the period as the Tomcats went ahead 51-48. Villezcas also hit 3 of his team’s 8 3-pointers of the night in the frame.
“We just decided to play harder as a team,” Villezcas said. “We didn’t want to lose to them again, and we really wanted to get coach his 200th win.”
The third-quarter rally also included Villezcas assisting a nice dunk by junior Adrian Smith (9 points), and senior KeJuan Davis (12 points) hit back-to-back treys to put East Aurora ahead for good at 49-45 with 2:45 left in the quarter.
East Aurora senior Fred Reynolds scored 9 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter to help preserve the lead, and junior Anthony Peters (8 points) hit his second 3 of the night in the period. The Tomcats led by as much as 8 in the fourth quarter, and they overcame a 9-of-22 performance at the free-throw line.
“We told them at halftime that they’re going to come out a shoot 3s,” said Hawks coach Jim Wolfsmith. “We knew they were going to throw some shots up, and we’d have to get our hands up on them. We didn’t do that in the second half.”
Bartlett junior Ryan DiCanio matched Villezcas with 18 points, and he added 6 rebounds in the effort.
However, DiCanio was held to just 4 points in the second half. His third trey of the game pulled the Hawks to 64-61 with 31.7 seconds left in the game, but that was his only field goal of the half.
“That’s one of the few things we told them at halftime,” Jeffries said. “We challenged them not to let (DiCanio) score, and they did a good job.”
Senior Justin Busch (10 points, 5 rebounds) and sophomores Tyler Pauletti (8 points, 7 rebounds) and Robbie Jimenez (8 points) also contributed for the Hawks.