On Tuesday, the Falcons made an emphatic statement that this season will be different. They defeated Heritage 62-46 on the Patriots’ home court.
Freedom (15-4; 3-0 BVAL) never trailed, forcing the Patriots to play catch-up all night. The Falcons opened up a 20-7 lead in the first quarter, and while Heritage did manage to cut the deficit to five points in early in the third quarter, the Falcons put the game away in the second half.
“We played like we have all year,” said Freedom head coach Drew Torres. “Good in spurts, made some boneheaded mistakes, but I thought in the fourth quarter we played pretty good. We had a couple of players step up and refuse to lose.”
The Falcons’ attack, led by junior guard James O’Neal and sophomore forward Elliot Smith, was consistent all night. The duo scored a game-high 18 points apiece. But Freedom did leave room for improvement, draining only four three-pointers all night and shooting only eight of 21 from the foul line.
“At the end of the third quarter we came in, talked to each other and said, ‘We’re gonna win the game,’” Smith said. “That’s all we needed.”
Junior swingman Bryce Nicolicchia led the Patriots (12-7, 0-3 BVAL) in points with 13, while sophomore big man Shon Briggs notched 12. The most telling sign of Heritage’s inconsistency on offense was Nicolicchia’s scoring line. While he led his team in scoring, only one of those points came in the first half.
“Freedom just outplayed us,” said Heritage head coach Pat Cruickshank. “I don’t know that there’s any one particular thing that went wrong. They came in and wanted it a lot more than we did. They seemed to get more offensive rebounds and loose balls. One of those may not seem to mean a lot, but they really add up in the end.”
Heritage played an impressive preseason, but is off to a rough start in league play, dropping the first three contests. The Patriots close out their first run through the BVAL next Tuesday at Antioch and take a road trip to Pittsburg on Friday.
“We’ve got to come back to practice tomorrow and we’ve got to figure out what combinations work and what guys want to play,” Cruickshank added. “We’ve got our feet kind of stuck in cement right now, so we’ve got to figure out how to get out of it.”
Freedom is not facing that problem. The Falcons complete their league schedule first at Deer Valley on Friday and then at home against Liberty on Tuesday. Friday’s game versus the Wolverines will amount to an early clash for first place, as both teams are undefeated in league play following Deer Valley’s 71-69 overtime victory at Liberty. The Falcons are confident they’re on the right track.
“If we keep playing together,” O’Neal said, “we can win league, take it to the playoffs, and really get going there.”
Freedom’s junior varsity team was also victorious Friday, knocking off Heritage 59-45. Obi Ihenacho of the Patriots led all scorers with 19 points, while Rodney Pope’s 16 paced the Falcons.