NEWFANE — The Panthers are back on top in the Niagara-Orleans League.
It was a virtuoso performance for Newfane boys basketball as it ousted Albion, 66-40, for a share of the league title Thursday at Newfane High School. The Panthers (13-6, 9-3 N-O) tied the Purple Eagles (13-5, 9-3) to become co-champions, returning to the top of the league after last winning in 2017-18 season.
This one seemed to be Newfane’s night from the start. The Panthers took a 1-0 lead before tip-off after the Purple Eagles were assessed a technical foul in warmups. Newfane then jumped out to an 8-0 start and never looked back.
Garrett Srock played the star. The senior scored a career-high 34 points to go along with 17 rebounds and two blocks.
“I knew coming into this season that we had the best team (in the N-O) and all we had to do was work hard, get the rebounds, take good shots, don’t turn the ball over,” Srock said. “And that’s exactly what we did tonight and we proved ourselves to everyone that we’re a team that can handle ourselves and can go a long way.”
Srock admitted that Albion got the best of Newfane in a 53-46 game back on Jan. 14, and how his team hit other bumps in the road against Medina and Akron. But in the end, the Panthers ended up just where they wanted: right on top of the league.
The senior team captain also talked about the size his team possesses, which allows it to attack the glass. Srock also made sure to point out how great his point guard Sam Capen has played all year, after he finished the title game with six points, seven rebounds and seven assists, with the former being on the receiving end of a few delicious dimes.
Albion seemed to have a slim chance of prevailing in the raucous ‘Panther’s den,’ as the Panthers held the Purple Eagles to a season-low point total. The N-O’s reigning player of the year, Deyonci Farley, was able to record 14 points, only four of which came in the second half.
Newfane head coach Eric Klumpp opened up about how the Purple Eagles outplayed the Panthers in their first matchup, which coincided with the team being ravaged with the flu. He did not want to take anything away from them that night, but he said that his guys were just “hungry” in Thursday’s tilt.
Klumpp also talked about the decision to move Michael Carmer to the bench and slide Srock over to the five, made to keep pace with an athletic big like Farley.
“We needed to put more pressure on their ballhandlers so we put Zack Snow in, moved him into the starting lineup,” Klumpp said of the junior guard, who finished with seven points, five rebounds and two steals. “And that way, we could really dictate the tempo by our defense. Which, holding them to 20 points (in both halves), it worked out for us.”
Klumpp said what allowed his squad to reach this level was that they came together, even after a 2-3 stretch to close out January.
“Basketball’s a long season. It’s not a sprint. ... We all go through some storms, some sickness, some injuries,” Klumpp said. “And luckily right now we’re getting healthy, and we’re playing well and everybody’s prioritizing winning over individual stats. So it’s great to watch ‘em play.”
One other Panther who should be lauded is Josh Everett, who not only won the league title with football in the fall, but now has his second championship of the season after being a member of Newfane’s wrestling team that won its seventh consecutive N-O crown last month. He called it a “cinderella story” and something he has dreamed of since his freshman year.
Whether it was beating rival Wilson on senior night or helping the wrestling team to seven straight years of undefeated league seasons, or being able to accomplish all of that and win the basketball league title, Everett now knows he can take a sigh of relief before the Panthers “take the next step and keep climbing the ladder” in sectionals.
With countless hours together on road trips, in practice and in games, Everett shared just how much it has meant to him to play for someone like Klumpp.
“(Klumpp helped in) making me into the man I am today because every single thing that I do, whether it’s on the basketball court, any other sport, football, wrestling,” Everett said. “He makes you do it at 100% and with precision. And if it’s not, you do it again. It’s really taught me to do everything 100%, put your hustle into it and that’s something that will never fail.”
Newfane wraps up its regular season schedule at 1 p.m. Monday when Tonawanda comes in for non-league action.
Follow sports reporter Khari Demos on Twitter @riri_demos. Also, tune in to Khari at 10 a.m. on Saturdays on WGR 550’s ‘Inside High School Sports,’ as well as the ‘Greater WNY Sports Connection’ podcast, a collaboration with Jon Simon and WNY Athletics.