Foxes Overwhelm Greeley in Front of a Boisterous Crowd

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By Andy Jacobs
Justin Allen Glides to the Basket for a Second-Quarter Dunk Shot in Fox Lane’s 61-33 Win Thursday Over the Visiting Greeley Quakers.

In a couple of weeks, the Horace Greeley boys’ basketball team just might be entering the sectional playoffs as the scariest, most dangerous sub-.500 opponent any high seed would ever have to face.

But on Thursday night, with the one player, Nick Townsend, who could instantly transform the Quakers’ fortunes still relegated to their bench as an assistant coach/cheerleader, they had to endure at least one more outing as the proverbial 98-pounder who gets sand kicked in his face at the beach.

In front of a boisterous crowd that nearly filled the gym, host Fox Lane never trailed all evening and used an 11-0 second-quarter run to pull away from the Quakers in a 61-33 victory. Senior guard Justin Allen scored a game-high 19 points and grabbed eight rebounds as the Foxes earned local bragging rights while improving to 9-5 this season.

“This is a tough team,” said Quaker head coach Matt Simone about Fox Lane. “Watching them on film and playing them today, I was very impressed with how Fox Lane plays. I think in AA, they’re one of the top teams. They’ve got inside, outside, senior leadership, guys that can shoot. So we knew regardless of who we had on the floor, this was gonna be a tough team and a tough game.”

Greeley, which fell to 5-10 with the loss, was forced to play without three starters, including point guard Connor Melis. To make matters worse, Justin Potack, who had erupted for 37 points in the Quakers’ win at Brewster a day earlier, was forced to the bench by an injury with just under three minutes remaining in the third quarter.

Fox Lane center Dylan Watson takes the ball to the basket vs. Greeley. He finished with 12 points and eight rebounds.

By then, though, the outcome was hardly in doubt. Potack picked up right where he left off against Brewster by nailing a long 3-pointer from the top of the key for Greeley’s first basket of the game, but then he never scored again as the Fox defense harassed him into rushed and contested shots.

“We’ve got some of the best defenders in Section One with Justin Allen and Charlie Shevick,” said Fox Lane coach Mike Tomassi. “They definitely saw the 37 last night and we pride ourselves on our defense, and that was definitely something we wanted to take away tonight. Charlie took the assignment and he’s been a three-year varsity player and one of our best defenders during his tenure here.”

Without the steady hand of Melis on the floor, the Quakers turned the ball over half a dozen times in the opening quarter and found themselves trailing 14-3 after a 9-0 spurt by Fox Lane that began with a 3-pointer from the left corner by Michael Lombardi. Allen soon followed with a steal that led to his coast-to-coast layup after he weaved past a pair of Greeley defenders in the lane.

Lombardi, who scored seven of his 10 points in the first quarter, then added a fast-break lefty layup off a lead pass from Allen. Junior forward Nikolas Dent capped the spurt by hitting on a short off-balance runner in the paint with 2:46 to go in the quarter.

Greeley finally gave its black-clad student section something to cheer about when Josh Nadel, who paced the team with 13 points, nailed a 3-pointer and then Brandon Fitzsimmons spun into the lane for a scoop shot off glass. But the quarter ended with Fox Lane ahead 18-8 after Dent drove to the right baseline for a bucket and then Lombardi scored on a fast-break layup just before the buzzer.

Ethan Golub of Greeley tries to score inside despite the defensive presence of Fox Lane’s Nikolas Dent in the second half.

After the Quakers cut their deficit down to just six points early in the second quarter, Fox Lane proceeded to score the game’s next 11 points to take complete command. The blitz began with Aidan Giannelli driving the right baseline for a layup and ended with Giannelli hitting on a 3-point shot from the left corner. The highlight, though, was Allen’s steal that led to his breakaway one-handed dunk.

Nadel provided five points for the Quakers late in the half, connecting on a 15-foot turnaround jumper and then an 18-footer from the left elbow. But a basket by Dent with 50 seconds to go gave Fox Lane a 31-16 cushion at the break.

“This is one of our bigger rivals,” said the Foxes’ Tomassi. “We’re neighbors. This has been a game that’s been important to Fox Lane, and Greeley, for decades. So I think they were just fired up to play a crosstown rival and we want to get as many wins as possible before the end of the season. A great atmosphere, so how do you not get pumped up for that?”

Three baskets by Nadel in the early minutes of the second half moved Greeley to within 33-22 with 5:47 remaining in the third quarter. But after a timeout, Fox Lane responded with a 12-2 run that all but sealed the victory. By the time Lombardi concluded the spurt with a left-corner trey, the Foxes had a 21-point lead and the ailing Potack had joined Townsend and Melis on the bench.

The Foxes used another 12-2 run in the fourth quarter to open up their largest lead of the night, 60-29, and the game ended with one final indignity for the Quakers as Mikey Gecaj’s toss in the lane at the buzzer teetered on the rim before falling off.

“It was a great atmosphere,” said Simone, finding a silver lining in the pre-pandemic-like crowd support. “It was fun. I’m glad the guys got to experience it.”

Tomassi, too, was thrilled that the school’s administration made a night like Thursday possible for his players.
“We’re really thankful,” he said. “It felt normal tonight. The kids deserve it. It’s just been awesome. The administrative support for athletics in this district is unbelievable and tonight showed it. I think it was a fun environment for everybody, including Greeley.”

The Quakers, who have lost four games this season by three points or less, might soon be participating in more fun environments if Townsend, the star center who led them to a sectional championship as a sophomore before enrolling at a private school, can get back on the court soon. He recently started classes again at Greeley and might be terrorizing opponents again in the paint.

“Yup, he’s enrolled as of Monday,” said Simone. “So we’re kind of taking it day by day with him. I’m not exactly sure of what all the protocols are, but even with him on the bench, the energy he brings, his leadership, is a ton for us.”

Even though the presence of Townsend would instantly elevate the level of play from every one of his teammates, Simone is not about to get carried away with what the immediate future holds for his team.

“We’re not looking forward to anything except the next game,” he said. “We still have a tough five-game stretch at the end of the season. So we’re just kind of taking it day by day. Listen, there’s all ideal things, but we just try to focus on what we’ve got here.”

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