By Sam Wilson
You could see the experience gap five minutes into Saturday’s championship final of the 85th Salamanca Tip-Off Tournament.
The host Warriors brought back one starter and two others from last year’s team after a nine-player senior class. Ellicottville, meanwhile, returned its full rotation including five senior starters to the 2017-18 season.
Thus, Salamanca boys basketball coach Adam Bennett didn’t sound surprised at his team falling behind 15-2 to the Eagles (2-0, 16-4 last season) on the way to a 61-36 loss.
“They’ve been playing together for three years and we’ve been playing together for 20 days,” Bennett said. “We’re young and so we were caught up in the situation and caught up in who we’re playing, and my thinking tonight was try to keep pushing them to being their best for 32 minutes.”
Eagles senior forward Griffin Chudy earned the tournament MVP honor with 10 points, five assists, five rebounds and two steals. Senior center Elliot Bowen scored a game-high 19 points with eight boards while Deric Leiper marked nine points, eight rebounds and three steals; Austin Grinols had nine points and six assists and Noah Stuve eight points on a pair of 3-pointers to round out the starting five.
“It’s not just tonight: Griff does everything well every night for us,” Eagles coach Dave McCann said. “He’s a rebounder, he’s a defender, he’s a passer, he’s a scorer. They were face-guarding him tonight early on and he adjusted to it. When he wasn’t scoring he was passing. He made some really nice passes to the other players, we got some of the other guys involved and I think Griff along with Austin are key facilitators in that.”
Salamanca senior Hercules Rasha led Salamanca with 14 points while freshman newcomer Isaac Brown impressed with 11 points, nine in the first half, before leaving with a strained achilles that Bennett expects to keep him out “day to day.”
“He’s got a lot of talent, he doesn’t back down,” Bennett said of the freshman. “He’s a Warrior. We’re really excited to have him for four years. It’s an exciting thing as a coach. The thing I love most about Isaac is he’s one of the most upset kids in the locker room. He played really well and he should be proud of that but because we lost, he wants to get better. He already wants to get into practice.”
The Eagles swiped 11 steals a night after marking 19 in the first round against Clymer, leading to easy baskets and 48 percent field goal shooting (24-for-50).
“We’ve been working a lot at some different looks on defense until we find one that works, and I think we found one that works for us pretty well,” McCann said. “We want to try and pressure teams. We want to try and get teams to turn the ball over, and I think we’re doing a pretty good job of that right now. One of our big points of emphasis has been tips and deflections. We want to get our hands on as many passes as we can.
“I thought we played really well the first couple nights of the season, and the first couple quarters of basketball (Friday) night against Clymer were probably some of the best basketball I’ve seen these guys play in years. I was just really proud of the way we started tonight.”
The Warriors (1-1) play Ellicottville again in the IAABO Tournament later this month. Even in a 25-point loss, Bennett said he’s glad to see this level of opponent in early in non-league play.
“We don’t want to be playing our best ball on Dec. 2,” Bennett said. “We’ve got a long way to go and make progress, but they’re playing really well. This is an extension of their program for year after year after year. We had nine guys graduate last year, so it’s just trying to acclimate new guys to the varsity level and understand that I’ll take these games over anything else all day because at the end of the day you can learn a lot more from this. The more big games they play, the more comfortable they’ll become.
“I don’t care that they’re Class D or whatever,” he added of Ellicottville. “That’s a team that can compete in any class and they’re one of the best teams in the region. Dave does a good job and credit him for that, but I learned a lot about our guys that we’re definitely going to be able to use to help us.”
Chudy, Bowen, Rasha, Brown, Clymer’s Zaron Overton and Cattaraugus-Little Valley’s Andrew Minnekine made the all-tournament team.
Leiper 4 0-0 9, Stuve 3 0-2 8, Rowland 2 2-2 6, G. Chudy 5 0-2 10, Rieman 0 0-1 0, Grinols 3 2-4 9, Bowen 7 5-8 19. Totals: 24 9-19 61.
Hedlund 1 0-0 2, Armstrong 0 2-2 2, Siebert 2 0-0 5, Chiemara 0 2-2 2, Rasha 6 1-2 14, Brown 4 2-2 11. Totals: 13 7-8 36.
Ellicottville 24 37 52 61
Salamanca 9 21 29 36
Three-point goals: Ellicottville 4 (Leiper, Stuve 2, Grinols), Salamanca 3 (Siebert, Rasha, Brown). Total fouls: Ellicottville 13, Salamanca 16. Fouled out: none.
JV: Ellicottville, 38-32.