January 18, 2012
Groton firms up grasp of top spot
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Tajz McKnight of Groton splits Marathon defenders Eric Barry (left) and Jeff Contri (30) of Marathon as he drives the lane Tuesday night. McKnight scored 10 points in Groton’s 67-47 win.
GROTON — It was suppose to be a tense showdown for first place in the Interscholastic Athletic Conference North Small School Division, but after halftime it was all business for Groton.
Leading 39-32 at the intermission break, the host Indians went to work on the defensive side by limiting Marathon to just 15 points en route to a convincing 67-47 victory that secured a two-game lead in the division standings.
The hosts also avenged a 52-34 setback in Marathon back in December, as first place Groton is now 9-1 in division and overall play. Sputtering Marathon falls to 7-3 in the division and 7-4 overall after its second straight division loss.
A big key to the Indians’ success was the play of Tajz McKnight. The junior scored 10 points, grabbed six rebounds, dished out four assists and made three steals. McKnight also battled Olympian senior Eric Barry and junior Jeff Contri all night long doing a nice job defensively.
It was the best game of his career and it could not have come at a better time.
“Coach (John Filzen) told me it was my best game,” McKnight said. “During practice, he told me to go hard and do what I know I can do. I was able to attack the basket hard and be strong inside.
“I knew we had to contain their inside players,” he added, referring to Barry and Contri. “Our assistant coach, Joey Volpicelli, helped mimic them in practice and he did a great job in helping us prepare for them.”
“That certainly was Tajz’s best game ever,” Groton head coach John Filzen said. “He is the kind of guy who can take us to that next level. Everyone knows about Keegan (Donovan). Everyone knows we have guards and we have depth, but Tajz is that kind of kid who can take us to another level. He does stuff in practice that is amazing. He has struggled some this season, but I hope tonight is the first of many more steps for him.
“Another guy who had a great game was Damian Young,” he continued. “He really attacked the basket. Tonight he was explosive. He wanted the ball and that was important because he is another strong kid.”
Young finished the game with six points and five rebounds off the bench.
IN A TIGHT OPENING half, it was a mix of starters and bench players who kept Groton in front. After racing to an 11-2 lead behind Donovan (19 points), Bryan Chaffee (10 points) and Matt Grieger (10 points), Groton saw its lead cut to 11-10. Eric Barry (15 points) scored five of those points and Kody Barry (18 points) buried a 3-pointer.
The Indians advantage was holding at 13-12 when Mike Medina came off the bench and connected on a pair of jumpers to give Groton a 17-14 lead as the quarter ended.
Groton opened the second quarter with an 8-0 run for a 25-14 cushion. Donovan hit a 3-pointer. McKnight drove the lane for two and Young drove for another deuce. Both were fouled on those drives, Young made his free throw. The advantage continued to grow and when McKnight scored another driving lay-up and made the foul shot, the Indians led 34-19 with 3:22 on the first-half clock.
Marathon fought back with a 9-0 run. Tyler Nelson started the run with two free throws. Eric Barry connected on a lay-up and Cameron Turner buried a 3-pointer. Two more charity tosses by Nelson trimmed the Groton led to 34-28 with 1:39 left in the half, but that would be as close as the visitors would get.
With a 39-32 halftime lead, Groton forced Marathon out of his game plan and held the Olympians to just six third quarter points to blow the game open. The Olympians were hoping for a spark, but Donovan buried a long trey with one-tenth of a second showing for a 54-38 lead entering the fourth quarter.
“That basket by Donovan killed us,” Marathon coach Jim Holland said. “We were out of sync all night, but we also hurt ourselves defensively by not rebounding and giving up easy lay-ups.”
Groton continued to play strong in the fourth quarter and coasted to the victory.
“Our goal is to win the IAC Championship,” McKnight said. “We have our eye on the prize this year. We still have some work to do and we have to be ready to play hard every game.”
Groton will travel to Whitney Point Friday for another good test in the North Division. Marathon will look to regroup by hosting Union Springs.
MARATHON JVs improved to 9-2 with a 55-32 win over Groton in the opening game of the evening. Dan Lincoln led the Olympians with 15 points with Zack Brandstadt adding 14 points. Zeke Wright led Groton with 13 points.
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