HERKIMER, NY — After knocking off defending Section III Class C champion Tully last week, the ninth-seeded Waterville Indians were riding high, looking to ride their Cinderella story to a Section III title.
However, they didn’t expect to have their glass slipper smashed –by a team of Atoms.
Sophomore Dekwan Grant poured in 12 points, while senior star Ryan Maddox added another 15 to lead the team, as the top-seeded Utica Academy of Science held the lead from wire to wire in a 60-47 victory over the Indians on Tuesday night at Herkimer College. Senior Ryan Buell led the Waterville charge with 15 points of his own in the loss.
For Grant and the rest of the Atoms, their meteoric rise from middle-of-the-pack D school to the cusp of a C title comes from one particular branch of science.
“It’s chemistry,” the sophomore said. “Half our team goes to train on Saturday…we practice every day. We have that team mentality.”
It was that team mentality that was on display directly from the opening tip, as the Atoms’ full-court press was working perfectly, forcing several early mistakes by the Indians. That press also allowed the Atoms to kick off the scoring, on a thunderous dunk by Maddox. The senior would pick up the first two baskets and six out of the first ten points as the Atoms jumped out to a 10-4 lead.
“I don’t think the press really bothered us,” Waterville head coach Coby Maxam said of the Atoms’ defense. “We were just throwing the ball around and making turnovers. We didn’t stick to our game plan. We definitely beat ourselves, but we fought them and overcame some adversities. There was a lot of heart tonight.”
That press, along with senior Shamar Mills working his magic under the basket also allowed Utica Academy of Science to hold Waterville scoreless for over five minutes. It was ended late by a basket from junior Nate Johnson, but the damage had already been done when the buzzer sounded and the score was 13-6 in favor of the Atoms.
Unfortunately, the Atoms would be without Mills very early on in the second quarter, as a rough-and-tumble start to the period left one Indian (eighth grader Tyson Maxam, who would return) and one Atom (Mills) on the floor in pain. Mills would not be as fortunate as Maxam, as he would not return, leaving a big hole in the Atoms defense directly under the basket.
“Shamar’s a big rebounder…that’s a big piece of the puzzle for us,” Utica Academy of Science head coach Anthony Lee said of his 6-4 big man. “That was a situation where others had to step up. It’s always next man up.”
That next man up was junior Drayton Belton, who kept up the pressure on the Indians throughout the second quarter. However, Buell and fellow senior Dawson Williams kept chipping away at the lead, while the usually potent long-range shooting of the Atoms went completely cold (scoring no points from long-range all game). That allowed the Indians to continually chip away at the lead, dropping the deficit to single digits several times during the period. Unfortunately for the Indians, that was also the time that Grant began to catch fire, grabbing a 6-1 run by himself before a Waterville timeout to extend the lead to 21-10. What made it worse for the Indians was the fact that between timeouts (called two minutes and 48 seconds apart), they were only able to get three more points, and none for the final two minutes, as they went into the locker room down 25-13.
“We couldn’t put our head down,” Grant said of Mills’ injury and the persistence of the Indians. “We just had to keep playing, defensively and mentally. We had to keep the ball moving and always trust in our teammates, no matter what.”
That team effort continued out of the locker room, as the Atoms only allowed five Waterville points early on, all from the free throw line. It would be over five minutes before they would even get points from the field (on a three-pointer from sophomore Connor Marriott) and by that time, the Atoms had regained their double-digit lead.
A quick 5-0 run, helped along by Marriott’s three-pointer, would bring the Indians within single digits yet again. What also helped Waterville’s cause was a quick ten fouls by the Atoms (in just under a quarter), allowing the Indians to get to the free throw line early and often. As a matter of fact, the Indians would make almost as many free shots than they would field goals (15 to 13).
“I think we played kind of sloppy tonight,” Lee said. “We didn’t capitalize on the fast break or the free throw line. We allowed them a little bit of confidence, but not much.”
That renewed confidence allowed the Indians to do what few have done to the Atoms this season: outscore them in the quarter (18-17). Unfortunately, that did not allow them to make a dent in the overall lead, which stood at 11 after the third quarter buzzer.
“They did a pretty good job keeping the momentum [on their side],” Maxam said. “Hopefully we put a scare into them, but they definitely owned the game.”
When the fourth quarter hit, though, whatever scare the Indians put into the Atoms was completely gone, though the Indians certainly tried to keep it around in the first couple of minutes. The three-pointers began to fall for Waterville, in the form of Marriott and Johnson (who had two apiece, the only four of the game), outscoring the Atoms 7-5 in the first couple of minutes of the period. However, Grant and Maddox would finally steal the show away in the final minutes, using the fast break to their advantage to pull even further ahead. Grant would grab another run all by himself (this time, 4-0), as Utica Academy of Science outscored Waterville 13-9 the rest of the way to punch their ticket to Onondaga Community College, amidst loud cheering from their well-traveled fans.
For Grant, the win was a great comeback from an 11-win season and a quarterfinal exit in Class D last year. Now, the Atoms are riding high, and are just one win away from the Carrier Dome. However, for the sophomore, there is still some work to do if they want to dethrone another Cinderella: 12th seeded Herkimer, who knocked off 13th seeded Cato-Merdian just a mile down the road from where the Atoms were playing.
“We have to pick it up defensively,” Grant said. “We want to play well, go to OCC [Onondaga Community College], go to the [Carrier] Dome and go to states. We have to keep the same mindset we had: go out, play hard and keep pushing.”
Maxam, however, will say goodbye to two seniors (Buell and Williams) in a season that saw the Indians stay competitive in a conference that came down to a battle between the Atoms and Cooperstown. However, Maxam has high hopes for the Indians’ future.
“It’s unfortunate…our seniors gave us a great season,” Maxam said. “They gave us tons and tons of commitment on their end. It’s hard to take a leadership role these days, and they did it. I wish UAS luck going further, [but] we’ll be back next year. We always are.”
Utica Academy of Science Atoms 60, Waterville Indians 47
Section III Class C Quarterfinal
Atoms 13 12 17 18 60
Indians 6 7 18 16 47
Utica Academy of Science Atoms (60)
LaMarcus Merchant 6 0-0 12, Dekwan Grant 5 2-2 12, Ryan Maddox 5 5-5 15, Darius Stuckman 1 0-2 2, Taysir Hakim-Monterio 1 4-5 6, Shamar Mills 2 0-2 4, Drayton Belton 2 0-1 4. Totals: 24 12-17 60.
Waterville Indians (47)
Connor Marriott 2 6-6 12, Tyson Maxam 1 2-2 4, Nate Johnson 2 0-0 6, Darren Johnson 1 0-0 2, Dawson Williams 3 2-3 8, Derek Buell 5 5-6 15. Totals: 14 15-17 47.
Halftime: Utica Academy of Science 25, Waterville 13.
Total Fouls: Utica Academy of Science 18, Waterville 15.
Three Point Field Goals: Waterville 4 (Marriott 2, Johnson 2).
Records: Waterville 12-8, 5-5 CSC-III, Utica Academy of Science 18-1, 9-1 CSC-III.