After Williamsville North earned its biggest win of the season Friday night, standout senior Sterling Taplin’s message was simple.
“Watch out,” said Taplin. “You better watch out for Williamsville North. We’re a team now.”
Taplin had 23 points as North, the No. 6 team in The News large school poll, used a 22-7 first quarter to gain control of what would be a 66-49 victory over No. 2 Clarence. The Red Devils (8-2, 4-1) had won at Will North (7-3, 5-1) in the teams’ ECIC I opener, 70-68, and were playing in front of hundreds of home fans packed into their gym.
“It was a great team win,” said North coach Chuck Swierski, whose Spartans started 0-2 after several players were part of the North football team’s run to the Class A state championship game. “We had our two best days of practice this week. It was like we flipped a switch. It’s like, now we have our basketball legs under us. I think that’s a big part of it.”
The 6-foot-1 Taplin, a two-time first-team All-Western New York selection who already became the school’s all-time leading scorer this season, broke the school’s career assist mark with his first of seven he recorded Friday night. He now has 303, surpassing the mark of 296 set by 2005 graduate Mike Berkun.
Taplin was leaned on to be a playmaker against Clarence because North was playing without starting junior point guard Sean Hill
“Today we had him at the point,” Swierski said, “and he showed that he can do everything.”
Junior forward George Attea had 14 points and 10 rebounds while sophomore Maceo Jack had 13 points. Senior Kolbe Hughes had nine points and 10 rebounds.
North overcame a 30-point performance by Clarence senior Ryan Funk, who hit five three-pointers, by supplementing its fast start with another burst in the third quarter. Clarence had climbed to within 31-24 at halftime, but North’s 17-12 third put it up 12 (48-36).
“This is never an easy place to play for us,” Swierski said. “We came out ready to play early and jumped them – then they made a run, and we jumped them again. We had the opportunity to put it away down the stretch, and we did.”
North closed the game with a patient, 18-13 fourth that included several Taplin assists.
“We hustled, we wanted it more, we played harder. We played as a team,” said Taplin, who has yet to decide on several Division I scholarship offers. “That’s how Williamsville North really plays. Everybody stepped up. Everybody played a huge role. We had some upsets with football obviously at the beginning of the year, but we’re a team and we’re getting it together.”