LEWISTON — Lew-Port boys basketball didn't fail its first test. It was just incomplete.
The reigning Niagara Frontier League and Section VI Class A champs got off to a fast start but faltered in the second half against the Park School of Buffalo, falling 68-49 Wednesday night at Lewiston-Porter High School. L-P (0-1) tipped off what should be a compelling non-league schedule, while Park (3-0) continues to show its sheer talent in the early stretch of the season.
Lew-Port was able to take a 20-13 after the first quarter, putting pressure on the Pioneers' offense and forcing several turnovers. The Lancers would even take a nine point lead in the second, but Park fought back to make it a 29-28 L-P halftime lead by applying its 2-3 zone.
The Pioneers blitzed from there — Park outscored Lew-Port 40-20 in the second half, sparked by a 15-0 run in the third quarter. Former Niagara Catholic and Niagara Falls High School star Jalen Bradberry was right at the center of it, scoring nine of the team's 15 points in the stretch.
"(In the first half) we were trying to play too fast. This is a hard arena to play in," Bradberry said, who led the Pioneers with his team-high 16 points. "But we just took it slow, and play-by-play, and just got back into the game."
The 2018-19 second team All-Western New York selection has had a seamless transition since transferring to Park, leading the team in scoring in all three of the Pioneers' games thus far. He knows the team still has a lot of work to do, but what should scare other schools throughout the state is that he has already seen the squad's progression since training camp.
Bradberry also got to faceoff once again with one of his closest friends in Roddy Gayle Jr., with these Niagara Falls natives holding a strong friendship despite wearing opposing uniforms.
"Every time we end up playing against each other on the court it's real fun," Bradberry said. "The whole (city of) Niagara Falls comes out. It reminds us of old games, like when we were little. So it's real fun."
Gayle did not disappoint either, as the 247sports.com four-star college recruit had a game-high 24 points and two blocks. The super sophomore did have a scary moment in the fourth quarter, leaving the game with what seemed to be cramping in his lower leg. The reigning co-Gazette boys basketball player of the year was able to return though, much to the delight of the Lancers.
Park head coach and Niagara Falls native Rich Jacob talked about how his team switched to a man defense in the second half, allowing them to contain the Lancers in the penetration game and to control the backboards by getting over in helpside.
Jacob also shared his thoughts on his new point guard, who has done a remarkable job of stepping in for Noah Hutchins in the early stretch.
"I think Jalen, first of all, I really like him as a person. And we all understand he brings a great skill set and tremendous potential," Jacob said. "And I think he's intending to continue to make improvements and add dimensions to his game that will help him prepare for the next level and will help us as a team. Such as (his) leadership role, continuing to work on offensive composure, and let the game come to him a little more, I think he'll find more success."
Alongside Bradberry, Park had three other double digit scorers with 6-foot-10 big man John Orogun (14 points), Keonjay Carter (13 points), and Desmond Davis (12 points). As for the Lancers, both Mehki Starks and Jack Bernstein (two 3-pointers) chipped in with eight points.
Lew-Port head coach Matt Bradshaw was unsure of what to expect from his team Wednesday night, but he was far from disappointed in how they played. Bradshaw knows the game has no bearing on the team's sectional seeding, and really was lost due to their own undoing.
"I thought we gave great effort, that's why we were winning the first half," Bradshaw said. "But when you play a good team like this, the margin of error is very small and you can't leave easy baskets out there."
Whether it was some missed jumpers, free throws, or layups, the Lancers' miscues came back to bite them in the end. But knowing the type of team L-P battled with in its home-opener, Wednesday should be more of a barometer game than one to leave the team despondent.
"Well I told the kids at the halftime, if that's what's the best this area has to offer then we're right up there with them, I mean it's that simple," Bradshaw said.
"We get Jalen Duff going again on offense, we've gotta get a little bit more from him on offense. A little more shooting from Bernie. I thought Mehki played really well, I thought Bernie played really well. I thought Bernie rebounded well and I thought Joe Beatty gave us some effort. Joe was on the floor a few times, I was really happy with him. We've just got to get some others in the scorebook and the ball just wasn't bouncing for us. Like I said, when you play a good team like this, you can't leave that many baskets out there.
"But what I'm saying right now is if that's the best then we're right there with them."
For more from sports reporter Khari Demos, follow him on Twitter @riri_demos. Also, tune in to Khari as a guest on Tony Caligiuri's 'Inside High School Sports,' 10 a.m. Saturdays on WGR 550.