Northern Tier Sports Report
CANTON — In the final minute Wyalusing was nipping at Canton’s heels. They had three chances to cut into the lead, but all three chances were 1-and-done misses, with all three misses rebounded by Canton’s Caiden Williams, helping the Warriors to hold on to the 54-49 win during NTL Division-II boys’ basketball action Wednesday.

Williams teamed with teammate Isaiah Niemczyk to lead Canton to the win as they combined for 40 of the team’s points.

“I’ve been working a long time for this, so being able to prove myself now, it’s awesome,” Williams said.

He and Niemczyk showed good chemistry, beginning the frame with a pick-and-roll the ended up with a Williams lay-up.

“I felt really good,” said Niemczyk. “Me and him play really well together. We love playing together, so when we both play really good together, we get that click, and get our team where we need to be.”

It’s the type of performance Canton coach Brock Kitchen has been expecting from Williams since the beginning of the season, though he knew it would take a while to see it due to the long football season Williams, and many of the other Warrior players, were a part of.

“I told him, you’re going to get your legs back,” he said. “You’re going to be fine. He was frustrated the first five weeks, but you can tell, tonight, he dominated the game inside. I don’t know how many boards he had, he probably had 15 boards tonight.”

That would go well with Williams’ 15 points, while Niemczyk, fresh off scoring his 1,000th point on Monday, had a game high 25 points.

“He wants the ball,” Kitchen said about Niemczyk. “When we took that last timeout, he said, ‘I want to bring the ball up, I want to be the one to get fouled.’ That’s what I want - pressure guys.”

After a fairly even first half that saw Wyalusing nurse a narrow 22-21 lead, the Warriors outscored the Rams 21-7 in the third to take a 42-29 lead into the final frame.

They would extend the lead to 44-29, but in a flash Wyalusing’s shooting woes went away, as they netted 14 points in two minutes - including four 3-pointers - to cut it to 44-43 with just over half the quarter left to play.

However, a 4-0 run by the Warriors saw them regain their footing, as they ultimately out scored Wyalusing 10-6 down the stretch to secure the win.

Weston Bellows had seven points for the Warriors - including a reverse lay-up that sparked their final run in the fourth - with Austin Allen netting four off the bench, and Cooper Kitchen scoring three points.

In Wyalusing’s win over NEB over the weekend they rallied in the fourth to pull out the win, but the deficit was just too much for them this time.

“I’ll give credit to Canton, they played well in the third quarter,” said Ram coach Brent Keyes. “We haven’t figured out how to play defense for 32 minutes. You know, we play really well in spurts, and, you saw a nice little spurt there in the fourth quarter, but we just haven’t figured out how to play for 32 minutes. We didn’t compete for 32 minutes - it was embarrassing in the third quarter.”

Just four Wyalusing players scored, led by Grady Cobb’s 16 points. Abram Bennett had 14 points - including eight in the final frame to try and pull his team back - while Blake Morningstar had 13. Isaiah Way rounded them out with six points.

Canton did a good job keeping Morningstar from getting any clean looks in the middle - either from entry passes, or when he got the ball - keeping him under his average of 20 points per game.

“We were trying to pinch on him as much as we could,” said Kitchen. “He’s been having a very good year with that jump hook that he’s got. He’s got it down. You’ve got to be able to knock him off a spot on that type of move. And I thought Caiden did an excellent job. When Isaiah got switched in there a couple times, they got a couple looks, but we got that straightened out.”

In fact, Kitchen leaned heavily on Williams to defend Morningstar all night long.

“I don’t think he came off the court,” said Kitchen. “I told him, ‘if Morningstar doesn’t come off the floor, you’re not coming off the floor tonight.’ And he was up for it, as a senior doing what a senior should do.”

It was an even start, with a Cobb lay-up putting the Rams up 2-0. Back to back lay-ups by Canton off Conner Foust assists put them up 4-2, but a Bennett bucket tied things up at 4-4.

After Williams and Morningstar traded baskets to keep it even, a Niemczyk lay-up plus the And-1 saw Canton take a 9-6 lead. Way had a steal and lay-up to cut it to 9-8, but Williams came back with another bucket. The quarter then ended like it began, with a Cobb jumper, to cut the Warrior lead to 11-10.

Allen opened the second quarter with a 3-ball, but Cobb nailed one of his own. That’s when the Warriors went on a 4-0 run off driving lay-ups from Niemczyk to push their lead to 18-13 halfway through the second frame.

Wyalusing then went on a 7-0 run to take a 20-18 lead - behind five points from Morningstar. A Niemczyk old fashion 3-point play saw Canton briefly take a 21-20 advantage with 1:17 left in the half.

However, with 11 seconds to play, Morningstar got a lay-up off a steal to give the Rams the 1-point lead at the break.

Then came the big third quarter for the Warriors.

It began with back to back buckets from Williams and Niemczyk to put them up 25-22. After a Cobb free throw, Williams got another lay-up, followed by a 3-pointer, to push Canton’s advantage to 30-23 with 5:37 on the clock.

After a Wyalusing timeout Way got a driving lay-up to cut it to 30-25, but the momentum was short lived, as Niemczyk hit a 3-ball, followed by a driving lay-up to make it a 10-point lead for Canton.

Bennett would hit two freebies to cut it back to 8-points with 2:50 left in the quarter, but Canton ended the quarter with a 7-0 run, beginning with a Bellows lay-up plus the foul. 

Bellows then hit Niemczyk for a lay-up to make it 40-27 Warriors. Morningstar would get to the foul line and convert both to cut it to 40-29 with 1:17 left.

However, Williams had the final say, hitting a buzzer beater from the post to put Canton up by 13 points with eight minutes left to play.

A Bellows jumper gave the Warriors their largest lead of the game - 15 points - but that’s when Wyalusing’s comeback began.

It started with back to back three balls from Cobb and Bennett. Morningstar then hit a jump hook, followed by another Cobb 3-ball. It ended with a Bennett 3-pointer right in front of his bench, to make it 44-43 Warriors with 4:27 left to play.

“We came out a little slow,” Niemczyk said about Wyalusing’s run. “But, we just knew after we gave up that many points, we just had to do what we could to get it back. ”

Canton regrouped, with Bellows hitting a twisting reverse lay-up off an offensive rebound at the four minutes mark. Niemczyk followed that with a double cross-over driving lay-up to push Canton’s lead back to 48-43.

Cobb would answer with a jumper with 3:07 left to play, as at the other end, Allen was fouled and hit 1-of-2 to make it 49-42 with 2:52 on the clock.

After a Wyalusing miss, Bellows found Williams for a bucket to extend their lead to 6-points with 1:37 left to play.

The Rams would get to the free throw line twice after that - hitting 4-of-5 - to cut it to a 2-point game, 51-49, with a minute to go.

Like he had done all game, Niemczyk had the answer with the ball in his hands, scoring on a driving lay-up to put the Warriors up 53-49 with 52 seconds to play.

“I knew I just had to take over offensively,” said the Warrior senior. “I wanted the ball in my hands because I knew I could take over offensively.”

After that Canton stopped Wyalusing on three straight offensive plays - which was good for them as they went just 1-of-4 from the line, missing the front end of back to back 1-and-1’s - to get the win. Williams’ defense and rebounding was key in the final minute.

“It was big, just going up and getting those boards,” he said. “Being able to seal the game like that was nice.”

Wyalusing still leads in the Division-II standings, as Canton has three losses from cross-over games, with Wyalusing sporting just one, but they both know this was a big one. Keyes said as much during a timeout as he tried to motivate his team.

The Rams still have to play Wellsboro, NP-Mansfield, and Athens - the three teams Canton lost to - with the Warriors welcoming Troy, Wyalusing’s loss, next week.

This win gives Canton an edge as they remain undefeated in division play, with them hosting NEB on Friday. Wyalusing will have to stay undefeated in division play until they get the Warriors at home a few weeks down the line.

“We’re just going to focus on not taking any teams lightly, and we’re just going to play the way we’ve been playing,” Niemczyk said about the Warriors.

As for the Rams, Keyes is going to try and press the right buttons to get his team back to the way they were playing before Christmas break.

“You’ve got to compete every possession,” said Keyes. “That’s our whole mantra, that’s what we say at every timeout. I mean, there’s too much talent in our room that to just not compete with that sense of urgency for 32 minutes. In the first half we played good defense, in the fourth quarter we played like our hair was on fire, but, obviously, just not consistently enough.”

PHOTO CAPTION: Canton’s Isaiah Niemczyk goes up for a shot as Wyalusing’s Blake Morningstar defends…PHOTOS BY CHRIS MANNING

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