On the coldest of days, Briarcliff’s Jack Ryan quickly discovered he had the hottest of hands.
The Bears’ senior sharpshooter made four 3-pointers and scored 16 points by the time Saturday’s game against Valhalla was just 10 and a half minutes old. Even though he got into serious foul trouble and never scored another point, the damage was already done as the Bears held onto the lead Ryan helped build and defeated the Vikings 55-46 in the championship game of the 14th annual Lt. Charles Garbarini Memorial Basketball Tournament.
“It was great to see him start strong like that because we know the way he can shoot,” said Bears head coach Cody Moffett afterwards. “But it was a little frustrating because of silly reach-in fouls. We’ve just gotta try to avoid those.”
The early shooting display by Ryan came as no surprise to Vikings first-year coach Richard Clinchy, whose team scored the game’s first five points, but then got overwhelmed the rest of the first quarter as Ryan began draining shots from beyond the 3-point arc. His third 3-pointer of the period, with 1:43 remaining, gave the Bears a 13-10 lead and left Valhalla playing from behind for the remainder of the game.
“Oh, he was great,” said Clinchy. “He’s one of those, he gets a star on the scouting report because we know how good he is. He’s a great leader, he’s a great ball handler. He must be wonderful to coach. And he comes out on fire and we had to make an adjustment and play a defense we actually have not played before because of him.”
The title game of the tournament, which raised over a thousand dollars for the “Answer the Call” charity despite the frigid weather, was played at Pleasantville High School. It didn’t take long to realize that Ryan was in a zone shooters dream about. After the Vikings jumped out to an early lead on a 15-foot baseline jumper by Drew Drayton-Bay and then an Orlando Clarke 3-point shot, Ryan took over.
By the end of the first quarter, he had collected 11 points and Briarcliff had a 16-10 advantage. But five quick and acrobatic points from Ethan Bartlett, who led Valhalla with 14, sliced the Bears’ lead to just one point. Ryan then answered with his fourth and final trey of the game, this time from the right corner. With 5:32 left in the half, he made two fouls shots, his last points of the day, as Briarcliff built a 21-15 edge.
Unfortunately for the Bears, Ryan was called for his third foul with 1:41 remaining in the half. Even worse for Briarcliff, which led 28-19 at halftime, his fourth foul came just a minute into the third quarter. By then, Valhalla had switched to a box-and-one defense with junior guard Jordan Rush face guarding him all over the court.
“We tell other guys this is your opportunity to still be aggressive because the space on the floor is a little more open,” said Moffett about adjusting to the change in the Viking defense. “But then we also don’t want J. R. to get out of the flow of the game. We still want him to be aggressive when he has an opportunity as well. So it’s just trying to find your good balance.”
A 3-pointer by Rush midway through the third quarter moved Valhalla to within five points, but the Vikings entered the final period trialing 40-34 after the Bears’ Miles Jones connected on a 20-foot jumper from right of the key just before the buzzer.
The fourth quarter began with Briarcliff extending to an 11-point lead as Tucker Wexler drove the baseline for a layup and Jones followed with a 3-point shot. But Valhalla answered with six straight points, four of them coming from Clarke, and closed to within 45-40 with 4:17 left in the game.
Though Ryan managed to finish the game with the four fouls, it was another Bear who stepped up in the final minutes to preserve the lead. Sophomore guard A J Panarese provided a pair of 3-pointers sandwiched around a Jackson Gonseth layup during an 8-0 spurt that quelled the Vikings’ comeback bid.
“The other guards stepped up and hit some big shots when we had to give up something to take away something,” said the Vikings’ Clinchy after watching Ryan take on a supporting role in the final quarter. “He certainly was the difference maker in the first half, and then credit to their other guards in the fourth quarter when he was not.”
“Yeah, it was a total team effort,” said Moffett, whose Bears improved to 6-1 this season. “We preach ball movement. So when the ball moves and a player moves, if you’re open you’re gonna take the shot. That’s kind of the way we’ve been preaching, kind of the way we’ve been playing these last three years. It’s been successful, so these guys know the deal when it comes to that.”
The two teams are set to meet again today (Tuesday) at Valhalla, and Clinchy, for one, will be glad to finally play another home game after eight straight on the road.
“We started out slow,” he said about his team, now 4-5. “We’re playing much better now. So certainly to begin the year, I leave here encouraged and enthused about the rest of the season.”