TUPPER LAKE - The Tupper Lake boys basketball team overcame a slow start with a strong second half on the way to a 71-50 win over Brushton-Moira Friday night.
Brushton-Moira actually jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter and led 29-27 at halftime. Tupper Lake didn't get its first advantage until late in the first half, when senior center Mitch Keniston rebounded his own missed free throw and put in a layup.
But in the second half, Tupper Lake came out a new team, scoring 22 points in both the third and fourth quarters.
"I think we definitely stepped up our defense," Keniston said. "We started off slow and didn't really get off to a good start, so we wanted to come back out strong the second half and not be weak."
Keniston led the Lumberjacks with 28 points, and senior forward Morgan Stevens had 16, including three 3-pointers. The duo combined to punish the Panthers from the inside and outside.
"He's a big mismatch for us," Panthers coach Randy Todd said about Keniston. "It's pick your poison. Do we let Keniston beat us, or do we double him right and let 3-point shooters beat us?"
Keniston scored 11 of his points in the third quarter, including the first four of the second half when the 'Jacks took control of the game by playing tough defense and getting easy baskets on offense.
"We went to our man-to-man defense in the second half, and I thought we just did a very good job at not only defending the ball but providing help because they're pretty quick, a pretty physical team," Tupper Lake coach Steve Skiff said. "I thought we rebounded very well in that second half, which again, got our transition going."
Although Keniston dominated the statsheet, the Lumberjacks' depth also played a key role in this game. They went deep into their bench throughout the game and got contributions up and down the lineup, from both from their backup big men and guards.
When starting point guard Anson Gagnier got into foul trouble in the third quarter by picking up his third foul, backup guard Vondell Wesby stepped right in and played solid basketball. Shortly after replacing Gagnier, Wesby stepped up and hit a jump shot from above the foul line to give the Lumberjacks their first lead of the second half, 33-32. He also did a good job of finding the open man, picking up several assists that led to easy baskets.
"I was really pleased with the many contributions that different players made tonight," Skiff said. "It was really nice to see."
Skiff also noted that starting forward Nick Dukette came up big in the first half when the team was struggling.
"That first quarter was rough, getting down 10-0, but as the quarter progressed we crept within five or six. I thought Nick Dukette was the key in that first quarter," he said.
Dukette finished with six points, all in the first half, when he also had several big rebounds.
Brushton point guard Adam Martin led his team with 14 points despite getting into foul trouble in the first half when he picked up three fouls. Teammates Zach Burnett, Alex Burnett and Bryan Aubrey each contributed eight points.
With the win, Tupper Lake improved to 10-5 overall, including 8-3 in Northern Athletic Conference's Eastern Division. Brushton is now 6-8 overall. If the season ended today, Tupper Lake would be the No. 1 seed in the Section X, Class C playoffs and Brushton would be the second seed, setting up a possible late-round matchup between the two.
This was the second win of the season for the Lumberjacks against Brushton. It was also their third consecutive win.
Tupper Lake returns to action Friday when it travels to Madrid-Waddington.