With the return of junior forward Ben Leff from an injury last Wednesday evening, Byram Hills basketball fans finally got the chance to see what the Bobcats might be capable of this season when at full strength.
That glimpse lasted for less than one quarter.
Leff, who scored 10 points in just seven and a half minutes of playing time in his debut, provided back-to-back baskets that stretched the Bobcats’ early lead over visiting John Jay to 13-2 with 3:30 left in the first quarter. But just one minute later, teammate Willy Samsen exited the game with a wrist injury and the Bobcats were suddenly forced to deal with more adversity.
“We’re happy with the win, but we’re thinking of Willy,” said Bobcats head coach Ted Repa after his team had completed a 58-44 victory over the Indians in the first game of the new calendar year. “We’re obviously really concerned. I mean, that’s a 15-point scorer.”
Samsen, the sweet-shooting junior with size and spring, landed on his shooting wrist after getting fouled while scoring a bucket. He did manage to go to the free-throw line, but his foul shot didn’t even reach the rim. That was the end of his night and the start of more worries for Repa.
“Just for a few minutes tonight was the first time, and then Willy went down,” he said of the Bobcats’ struggle to get all their key pieces on the floor together this season. “Yeah, it’s been frustrating. But sometimes resiliency is taught through hard lessons in life.”
Resiliency was something undersized John Jay showed a bit of in the first half. The Indians trailed 17-7 after the opening quarter, but after successive baskets from Dan Ford and Charlie Murphy midway through the second period the big Byram Hills lead was sliced to just 22-18.
“We had some breakdowns, but they played really hard,” said Repa about the Indians. “So they weren’t gonna go away.”
The Bobcats did close the first half on a 7-1 run to rebuild the 10-point advantage they had after the first quarter. The second half began with a 3-pointer from the top of the key by Skylar Sinon, who finished with a game-high 21 points, along with eight rebounds. A runner in the lane by Sinon with 5:45 to go in the third quarter gave the Bobcats a 34-19 cushion.
Later in the period, Leff provided his final two baskets of the night, a short flip from the right baseline and then a turnaround jumper in the lane, and the Bobcats maintained their 15-point lead, 40-25.
“Ben Leff being back is a huge thing for us,” said Repa. “He was tough to stop tonight. So obviously we need him to compete in Class A. He only played seven and a half minutes tonight. His limit was eight. So hopefully we can double that moving forward and then get him back to speed.”
Sinon, of course, has already been playing at full speed this season. The varsity veteran now in his fifth year with the Bobcats had 25 points and nine rebounds as Byram Hills, now 6-2, ended the week with a 51-34 win over Ardsley at the Westchester County Center on Friday.
Against John Jay, he converted on all three free throws after being fouled while launching a 3-pointer with just over a minute left in the third quarter, enabling the Bobcats to take a 46-29 lead into the final period, which began with a Sinon fall-away jumper from the right baseline. His runner from right of the lane then gave the Bobcats their largest lead of the night, 50-30, with 6:15 left on the clock.
“He’s like the one guy we can’t take off the court,” said Repa about Sinon. “He’s our everything. He’s our leader. He’s averaging 10 assists a game along with 20 points. So he’s doing a lot. He’s just a great kid.”
When Sinon did go to the bench, John Jay took advantage and went on an 11-1 run to move within 51-41 with 2:22 to go. But the Bobcats’ Dylan Friedman, who finished with 14 rebounds, made both ends of a 1-and-1 foul opportunity to start a 5-0 Byram response that sealed the victory.
“Clearly we have to get better at a lot of little different things,” said Repa after watching his backup players struggle against the Indians’ full-court press in the fourth quarter. “The inexperienced guys, this is good for them because they see the mistakes and they can learn from them.”
With Samsen expected to miss at least a couple of weeks, some of them figure to get playing time they might not have expected. Repa had been hoping the new year would usher in the chance for his team to start playing like a contender for a sectional title, but now the Bobcats may have to wait for Samsen’s return to start clicking on all cylinders.
“There’s only six weeks left,” said Repa, unaware at the time what the X-rays would reveal. “Our fingers are crossed.”