Almost all of a 16-point fourth-quarter lead had been whittled away when Briarcliff boys’ basketball coach Cody Moffett was forced to call a timeout with just over three minutes remaining in last Tuesday night’s home game against Westlake.
“What startled me was our defensive intensity changed,” Moffett would admit later. “That’s what we needed to address during the timeout. That was the only thing we did address.”
Apparently his Bears got the message. They outscored the Wildcats 13-3 over the game’s final few minutes to thwart the Westlake comeback bid and win 64-48. Senior guard Jack Ryan connected on his fifth and sixth 3-pointers of the evening during the closing spurt as the Bears cooled off a local rival that had won seven of its eight previous games.
Ryan, who finished with a game-high 23 points, erupted for eight of them in the game’s opening three and a half minutes as Briarcliff jumped out to a 10-0 advantage. The Wildcats finally got on the scoreboard with 4:18 left in the first quarter when Joe Mazzariello made one of two free throws. But back-to-back baskets by Spencer McCann and Jackson Gonseth then stretched the Bears’ cushion to 14-1.
“That’s a rough start, especially in this place,” said Wildcats coach Chad Charney, whose team scored the last five points of the period but still trailed 19-10. “The first quarter was a real disappointment.”
Even more disappointing for the Wildcats was the absence of primary offensive weapon Tyler Tsiakaros after the first few minutes. The latest of several Westlake players to be hit by the flu bug, he was limited to just three minutes of playing time.
“Without Tyler in the game, he’s averaging about 20 points a game right now, that’s a big loss,” said Charney. “We needed Tyler tonight to really compete against an elite team like this.”
The Bears’ big first-quarter lead was cut to seven points when Mazzariello fed Joe DiLiberti for a layup 50 seconds into the second period. But a Ryan 3-pointer midway through the quarter built the Briarcliff margin back up to 24-12. Then three Ryan free throws after he was fouled on a long jump shot with 1:36 to go in the half left Westlake behind 29-15.
“Very disappointing,” said Charney about watching the Bears’ senior sharpshooter score 14 first-half points. “We’ve been saying it for the two years I’ve been here, we can’t let him get open, can’t leave him. I don’t know how many threes he finished with, maybe six, but they were all open looks. So it was really frustrating because we’ve been stressing it all week.”
Briarcliff, leading 31-18 at halftime, began the third quarter with a layup by Gonseth, who scored 13 of his 15 points after intermission. Two free throws by Gonseth then gave the Bears their largest lead of the game, 17 points. They matched that margin when Tucker Wexler drove through the lane for a basket that gave them a 43-26 cushion with just over two minutes left in the quarter.
Westlake trailed by 15 points heading to the final period and still trailed 51-38 after a Gonseth bucket with 4:18 to go. But then a Terence O’Brien 3-pointer, followed soon by consecutive baskets from Mazzariello, sliced the Briarcliff lead to just six points with 3:10 still on the clock. The late exploits from Mazzariello, the Wildcats’ senior point guard who scored 14 of his team-high 17 points in the second half, came as little surprise to the Bears’ Moffett.
“Yeah, we always put our best defender on him, just try to keep him in front, try to contain him, make him work for his shots,” he said. “Different things like that, and I thought we did a pretty decent job of it at times. But when you’ve got a solid player that’s got some talent, you’re only going to be able to hold him down so long. But, thankfully, we were able to do enough.”
Fortunately for the Bears, currently 14-4 this season, they came out of the timeout Moffett had to call after Mazzariello’s toss in the lane capped a 12-2 Westlake run and then completely dominated the rest of the way. McCann ignited the 13-3 finishing spurt with an old-fashioned 3-point play, and then 20 seconds later Ryan drained a 3-pointer from right of the key while falling down.
O’Brien answered with a 3-point shot, but it hardly mattered because Ryan then connected on his sixth trey, from the right corner, stretching the Briarcliff lead back up to 60-48 with two minutes to go. After baskets by McCann and Gonseth restored the 16-point lead the Bears had earlier in the quarter, Moffett was able to clear his bench for the final half minute.
“We played well, but I thought our defense is what set the tone,” he said. “From that point on, the offense just kind of flowed.”
For the Wildcats’ Charney, the final minutes after the Briarcliff timeout brought nothing but disappointment.
“We knew exactly what play they were gonna run,” he said. “We drew it up in the timeout and we just didn’t execute defensively. We thinned out a little bit and let Jackson get the ball right in the middle for a wide-open layup. And then we had an empty possession and then two threes (by Ryan) in a row. Definitely frustrating because I think we compete with them, but you’ve got to play 32 minutes against a team like this.”