PALMYRA – At no other level does the outset of a contest take on as much meaning as it does on the scholastic level. And in season openers, the importance of those beginnings is magnified even more.
On Friday night, the Lebanon boys’ basketball team was ready to start its 2012-13 season, and the Elco Raiders weren’t.
In an opening game of their own Tip-Off Tournament – which was played at Palmyra High School because of on-going renovations at Lebanon – the Cedars’ 9-0 start proved crucial, as they rode it to a 64-52 victory over the Raiders. After Lebanon closed out the opening quarter up 26-10, Elco outscored it 42-38 the rest of the way, but never seriously threatened the Cedars’ advantage.
The triumph propelled Lebanon into the championship game of the event, which will be contested Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the LVC Gymansium. The Cedars’ will be opposed by Erie Strong Vincent, which took care of Palmyra 59-54 in the other opener.
“They beat us the other three quarters,” said Lebanon head coach Tim Speraw. “They played us tough. Our guys were just anxious to get after someone else after three weeks of practice.
“(Senior guard, Evan) Zimmerman set the tone for us by knocking down some shots,” Speraw added. “We got good clean looks, and when we do that we can make them. But I was more impressed with our defense. We got those open looks from our defense. Our defense transitioned into our offense. And we were able to get kick-outs for good shots.”
“Tim had his team ready to play,” said Elco head coach Brad Conners of Speraw and the Cedars. “They were ready to go from the minute they tipped it off. This thing was new to a lot of our guys. I want to give Tim and Lebanon credit. But on the same note, we weren’t ready to go.
“They (the Cedars) pressured the ball. They pressured us,” added Conners. “They made us make decisions on the fly. Against a team like Lebanon, they’re going to get their hands on balls. We tried to prepare them (his players) for it, and we told them it should never happen again.”
With its pressing and trapping defense turning the Elco ball-handlers over and over – and with seemingly everything it threw up finding net – Lebanon scored the first nine points of the game, on treys from Evan Zimmerman and Drey Murray. A third Zimmerman trey made it 12-2, and then for good measure the Cedars ended the first period on a 14-5 burst.
“Right now, we’re kind of going by every court is our home court,” said Speraw. “We’re going to have to learn how to play on the road. It’s pretty much what we’re about.”
“Zimmerman, early in the game, hit those threes,” said Conners. “But in the locker room (at halftime) we talked about the threes not hurting us. I think we needed to do a little better job on the perimeter.
“Lebanon’s plays were nice plays,” Conners added. “They got their guys open and they knocked them down. They ran those offensive sets. They executed.”
Murray led Lebanon’s extremely balanced scoring with 15 points and a number of flashy dimes, while Zimmerman and Jorian Gennetto each notched 13 points. Long Josh Spaulding posted ten points and was a presence inside all evening.
For Elco, 6-5 sophomore Cameron Paul dropped in 14 points and freshman Caleb Buchmoyer tallied 11. The Cedars outscored the Raiders 27-12 from beyond the arc.
“I think we are that deep,” said Speraw. “That’s one of our strengths. We have three or four guys who come off the bench, and we don’t lose anything.
“I thought Drey had a calming influence on us,” Speraw continued. “He’s a senior now. He’s grown up a lot. If I had to give him a grade tonight it would be an ‘A’. And his defense was good too.”
“I didn’t know my starting lineup until a day ago,” said Conners. “There were questions all over the floor. I know all the questions weren’t answered. But every one of our kids did something positive.
“Cameron (Paul) does have feet,” Conners added. “He does have ball skills. He had a couple of ‘and-ones’. He kept us in it for a while. I thought he handled himself really well.”
Despite their poor beginning, the Raiders refused to go away. After trailing 37-25 at the break, Elco hit Lebanon with a 9-4 burst in the initial four minutes of the second half and pulled to within 41-34 on a Derek Miller charity toss.
Elco then got it to 48-40 on back-to-back three-point plays from Paul in the waning stages of the third period.
“No, they didn’t fold at all,” said Speraw of the Raiders. “They played hard. If you’re in the game in the fourth quarter, you’re in the game. For a little bit there, it was a chess match.”
“I’m really happy with my kids,” said Conners. “They responded. They could’ve folded their tents but they didn’t. To their credit, they made a run. How can you not look at the positives for as young as we are?”
Lebanon finally put Elco away in the early stages of the final stanza, as it held the Raiders without a point for a 4:32 span. During that time, the Cedars pushed their advantage to 61-43, on a free throw from Gennetto.
“Lebanon’s athletic,” said Conners. “And they play to their strengths. I like their guards (Murray and Kristian Sanchez). I like their guards a lot.”
“Obviously, Erie Strong Vincent is athletic,” said Speraw. “They can match our athleticism. They’re longer than Elco was. They run a ton of defense. They’ve got 13 seniors, so they’ve got experience. They had a good team last year and they’ve got everyone back.”