UTICA, NY — It was a much-needed game for both the Utica Academy of Science Atoms and the Holland Patent Golden Knights. Both needed this win to keep pace with the Hawkeyes, who own a win over both of them.
When the final buzzer sounded, though, the Atoms proved they wanted it just a little bit more.
The game’s most valuable player, senior Ryan Maddox, finished with 20 points, including a huge basket-free throw combination near the end to power the Atoms to a 60-56 victory. Fellow senior LaMarcus Merchant pitched in another 15, while sophomore Dekwan Grant added another 14 in the victory.
Despite performances by those three, both head coach Anthony Lee and Maddox knew there was room for improvement for his Atoms.
“We could have played a lot better today,” Maddox said. “We had to play better defense, we had to pick up the energy. In the second and third quarters, we finally picked it up and got the win.”
“We’re used to scoring 70 points a game,” Lee said. “But it was a good win for us. Once we get our tempo going, we do pretty well.”
There was only one word to describe the tempo from the opening tip on both sides, however: fast. Amidst thunderous clapping from the home team’s cheering section, both the Atoms and the Knights fired off the starting line, scoring each of their first baskets. Led by a three-pointer by senior DJ Harter, the Knights were able to sustain that energy, using a 7-2 run to take an early 9-4 lead.
That lead would balloon to 14-6 in favor of Holland Patent, thanks to hard-hitting defense led by Harter and fellow senior Josh Ernst (who contributed eight points to his own credit as well. Thanks to that defense, the Knights were able to force Utica Academy of Science into five first quarter turnovers, allowing just eight points in the opening frame to take an 18-8 lead going into the second quarter.
“When [Ernst is] on, we’re ticking,” Holland Patent head coach Kirk Smith said. “Josh has been doing a lot, helping us get wins in these tough times.”
Unfortunately for Kirk and the rest of his Knights, the second quarter was a polar opposite of the first. Now, it was the Atoms’ defense that was cracking down, forcing Holland Patent into five turnovers. An early 15-6 run by the Atoms allowed them to pull within one point early in the second quarter. A 4-0 run by the Knights couldn’t stop the torrent of turnovers, and a floater by Grant would give the Atoms a lead with just 45 seconds left in the half.
“We just have to get a better handle…we’re just not handling well,” Smith said of the turnovers, of which his Knights had 16 all game. “It’s something we have to correct, but we have to do it quickly.”
The Atoms’ offense also found their stride, led by Maddox’s 11 points in the quarter. That was enough for Utica Academy of Science to extend their lead even further, taking a 32-28 lead into the locker room.
When the two teams came out to start the third quarter, DJ Harter took center stage, flying all over the court and picking up the first basket and steal of the period. Unfortunately, the senior also picked up his third foul, but not before another 4-0 run by the Golden Knights tied it up and retook the lead. On the other side, two big three-pointers by Grant and Merchant allowed the Atoms to reel the Knights in a back and forth affair in the third quarter. Led by six from Harter and Ernst (the third member of the senior trio, Jeff Sobel, added four of his own, being the only Knights to score in the third) gave Holland Patent a 44-43 lead going into the final quarter.
Unfortunately, that was where the Knights began to run out of steam against the much faster Atom offense. They’d get four straight points of their own to take a three-point lead, a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the way, despite massive resistance by the Golden Knights.
“We knew we were faster and more athletic,” Maddox said. “We were just able to get those turnovers and layups from there.”
“We’re used to playing that fast,” Lee said. “A lot of teams come out that way, but they can’t sustain it. We can.”
The Atoms did manage to sustain that energy, but it wasn’t without a lot of nail-biting moments. A Harter three-pointer would tie it up with just two minutes left, but from there, it was all Utica Academy of Science, forcing game-changing turnovers, especially three in the last minute of the game. In the end, the Atoms were just too strong, managing large layups form all sides as the clock ticked away to zero.
Despite the loss, Smith had nothing but glowing reviews for Maddox and the rest of his team.
“He’s a good player,” Smith said of Maddox. “He’s very talented, he shoots well, he has a bright future. We just have to refocus. It’s all about our work ethic…we just need to challenge them to work harder, and that’s on me.”
On the other side, the win gives the 11th-ranked Atoms a large amount of momentum heading into the second half of the season, which includes another date with Cooperstown.
“It gives us a little more edge,” Maddox said. “We just have to stick to our stuff and do what we do best.”
For Lee, the focus is not on the game on January 23, but their next game just ten days away.
“Our focus moves on to Herkimer now,” Lee said. “We’re peaking, we’re playing good ball, we have a bright future. We’re going to be a tough out. No offense to Weedsport, but I think they’re going to have to go through us or Cooperstown. We’re new, we’re just feeling our way out, but our goal is the same: win the conference.”
Utica Academy of Science Atoms 60, Holland Patent Golden Knights 56
Mohawk Valley Basketball Classic — Game #2
Atoms 8 24 11 17 60
Knights 18 10 16 12 56
Utica Academy of Science (60)
LaMarcus Merchant 5 4-8 15, Dekwan Grant 6 0-2 14, Ryan Maddox 9 1-3 20, Jordan Donato 0 1-2 1, Taysir Hakim-Monterio 2 0-0 4, Shamar Mills 3 0-1 6. Totals: 25 6-16 60.
Holland Patent (56)
Max Thomann 1 2-2 4, Mike Benedetto 2 0-0 4, Jeff Sobel 3 0-2 6, DJ Harter 5 0-1 12, Nate Healey 2 2-2 7, Josh Ernst 10 0-2 20, Connor Stalker 1 1-2 3. Totals: 24 5-11 56.
Three Point Field Goals: Utica Academy of Science 4 (Grant 2, Merchant, Maddox), Holland Patent 3 (DJ Harter 2, Healey).
Halftime: Utica Academy of Science 32, Holland Patent 28.
Records: Holland Patent 7-3, 3-1 CSC-I; Utica Academy of Science 11-1, 4-1 CSC-II.
Most Valuable Player: Ryan Maddox, Utica Academy of Science.
Sportsmanship Award: Josh Ernst, Holland Patent.
Scholar Athletes: Connor Stalker (Holland Patent), LaMarcus Merchant (Utica Academy of Science).