The third-seeded boys Falcons squad hosted the 14-seed Vernon Vikings at The Nest on Tuesday night. In a hard fought battle, it was the Falcons who came out victorious over the tough Vernon defense by a final of 58-51.
The story of the night was the Falcons depth off the bench. After mid-game injuries to starters David Hanna and Buddy Jacobus, the J-Town bench needed to step up bigtime and players such as Andrew Weber, Will Weihmiller, and Tyler Ruban were all up to the task. “Tyler Ruban was huge off the bench tonight,” Coach Joe DiGennaro said about their bench stepping up. “Filling in for David (Hanna) when he went down and to add two three-pointers off the bench was something we really needed tonight.”
It was senior forward Mattie Johnson leading the way as always for the Falcons. The senior put together an impressive 18-point game, despite being highly focused on all game.
“Coach told me I sucked at defense,” Johnson said postgame. “So I played harder defensively and that led to some good offense as well.”
The next scorer for J-Town was the big-man Sean Whalen who tallied 13 points and Tyler Ruban, who put together a 10-point night off the bench. “I had to bring the energy David brought off the bench,” Ruban said.
The Falcons got out to a quick start in their opening state game. J-Town came out on a 6-0 run over the Vikings in the first few minutes. Most of their early success was a straight correlation to the impressive play of Whalen, who dominated the boards and tallied six points in the quarter. Although the 6-0 run seemed promising, the Falcons only finished the first with a five-point lead.
In the second quarter sparks started to fly. The Vikings and Falcons would continue to trade blows back-and-forth. The two tough defenses were overpowered by both teams’ strong shooting in the second. Vernon was just able the edge J-Town in the quarter as they trimmed the Falcons lead to three points heading into halftime.
The Falcons came out as they always do in the second half–with momentum. Jefferson quickly went on a run and began to pull away from the Vikings. That run for J-Town was highlighted by Johnson’s energizing dunk, which put the Falcons to a quick ten-point lead still early in the half.
Vernon wouldn’t go away. The Vikings continued to hang around with J-Town, trading shots with the Falcons. The Vikings seemed to have a lot of push going into the fourth quarter, until Ruban nailed a three-pointer right before the buzzer to keep the Falcons leading by ten points, with just one quarter remaining.
The Vikings came out hot in the fourth. A quick pair of threes got Vernon right back in the game just a minute into the fourth quarter. Although they continued to fight, the Vikings were still unable to grasp a lead over the Falcons. After multiple free throws, Jefferson finally began to pull in control of the game. The Falcons finished their pull away with a Johnson steal then dunk on the other end, his second of the game, sealing the 58-51 win for the Falcons. “It felt pretty cool,” Johnson said about the dunk. “It wasn’t clean so I’m a little upset about that but, I’ll take it.”
My player of the game goes to Tyler Ruban. With a career high 10 points off the bench, Ruban was a big time player when Hanna went down for the Falcons. Inside of the 10 points, Ruban also hit two three-pointers and made countless terrific defensive plays.
“I found my shot a lot more this game,” Ruban said. “They weren’t respecting my three pointer this game and I made them pay a couple times.”
The Falcons move onto the quarterfinals of the state tournament, as they will remain home for the next round. J-Town will either face off against the 11-seed High Point or the 6-seed Hawthorne depending on their winner, back at The Nest Thursday night.