It can be argued that in Briarcliff’s biggest statement of the season, a 71-49 drubbing of rival Pleasantville on Friday evening, the Bears didn’t even play to the best of their ability.
Foul trouble for Ryan Huegel limited the senior guard and big man Brian Daniels only had six points at the half.
But with the way they played defense throughout, and with Jared Jones picking up the slack for Huegel with 12 first-half points, the Bears raced out to a 35-18 halftime lead and silenced the Pleasantville fans at Pace University.
That’s a scary thought for the rest of Class B.
“I think once we settled in, got a little comfortable, we started playing a bit better, looser, shot the ball a little bit better,” Briarcliff coach Brendan Coxen said. “I thought today we shot the ball extremely well, probably better than we have all season.
”Today though, for us, it was about the defensive end. I thought we took care of business on the defensive end and that was the difference for us.”
The Bears defense allowed Briarcliff to extend its lead in the second quarter despite the fact that Huegel only played about 14 seconds because of two early fouls.
“We are not the deepest team, I think, that’s known, so when we do get into foul trouble we need guys to step up so that’s something we always talk about,” Coxen said. “Jared stepped up, he handled the ball extremely well, he’s fully capable of handling it, and he made great decisions, and he took over running the team.”
The senior “point-center”, according to Coxen, more than proved his versatility in the second quarter. With Huegel on the bench, Jones, who had seven points in the first quarter, became more of a facilitator and lock down defender.
“We have a lot of scorers on our team so scoring points is never a problem for us,” Jones said. “It’s more important defensively. I have to step up and guard Jack (Eisenberg), who had a good game still. I was just trying to do my part and play point guard a little. I have to play every position.”
Eisenberg finished with a game-high 27 points, but most of them came in the second half when the game was out of reach.
“He’s going to get his own so we wanted to contain defensively and stop them as a team,” Jones said.
Daniels, who finished with a team-high 18 points, eight of which came in the fourth quarter, imposed his will on the defensive side of the ball with several key blocks and a couple charges drawn.
“Coach said he wanted some defense so I went out there and took two charges in the first half,” the senior said. “It was good all around for us.”
Both teams entered Friday night’s contest ranked amongst teams in Class B, according to the New York State Sportswriters. But with much on the line in terms of a rivalry, the Bears just wanted to avenge last season’s 52-49 loss, and finally get a win playing the Panthers at Pace — something that hasn’t been done since they started playing at the university in 2005.
“This is a real big game because of what happened last year),” Daniels said. “We just wanted to come out hard and just play defense, really.”