Northeastern senior Antonio Rizzuto speaks after the Bobcats defeated York High, 75-53, on Jan. 10 to move their record to 10-0 on the season. Elijah Armold, York Dispatch
After an historic run last season, it’s no secret that the Northeastern boys' basketball team entered the 2017-18 campaign with a target on its back.
That attention has manifested itself this year in playoff-like atmospheres for just about every Bobcats home game. Every opponent who goes against them seems to give that much more in terms of effort.
It also means extra attention being paid to Northeastern’s high-powered offense.
However, for as powerful as the Bobcats’ league-leading offense is, it was a focus on the other end of the floor that helped lead them to a 75-53 victory Wednesday night, Jan. 10, over visiting York High.
“We’re staying focused,” Bobcats senior standout Antonio Rizzuto said of the hype surrounding the team. “This is definitely a big test for us playing against York High. We had to stay composed in order to win and that’s why we ended up winning.”
The victory keeps the defending York-Adams champion Bobcats undefeated at 10-0, and also keeps them atop the Division I standings at 6-0. The loss dropped the Bearcats to 6-5 and 3-3.
Entering play, the Bobcats boasted the league’s most prolific offense at 70.4 points per game. They’ve done it this season by quickly getting out in transition and racing past opponents for easy buckets. During possessions when they’ve had to slow it down and work the ball around, many have ended with Northeastern draining shots from beyond the arc.
Northeastern, which is also defending Division I and District 3 Class 5-A titles, also led the league in 3-pointers coming in with 78.
Wednesday’s first quarter perfectly encapsulated all of that. Northeastern quickly raced out to a 19-6 lead. A number of times during the first eight minutes, the Bobcats would make a stop and get the ball down court fast for an easy lay-in.
The times when that didn’t’ happen, league-leading scorer Rizzuto was there to showcase his range, knocking down a trio of treys and scoring 11 of the Bobcats’ 19 early on.
“One of our goals was to stay disciplined defensively and we did a pretty good job of that in the first half,” Bobcats head coach Jon Easter said. “Kind of got away from us in the second half, but every game is different and every team is different, with different match-ups. … But, we did a great job tonight staying focused defensively.”
For as high-ranked as the Bobcats' offense was coming in, their defense deserves just as much of the credit. Northeastern entered Wednesday's Division I tilt having allowed an average of 45.8 points per game; a mark that ranked second in the league.
While Rizzuto was the leader offensively Wednesday, it was the Bobcats’ other standout player, Fred Mulbah, who brought the defensive energy.
Mulbah was frequently in passing lanes, disrupting the Bearcats' offensive flow and sending the ball the other direction time after time. He also brought the capacity crowd to its feet in the second quarter when he recovered nicely on a Bearcats player driving the lane before skying to pin a shot attempt against the glass.
Rizzuto would lead all scorers with 28 points, playing right around his 28.7 average coming in. He hit four shots from beyond the arc, a skill he also led the league in before Wednesday. He has now knocked down 46 3-pointers this year.
“It’s something I do all the time, at practice, shoot thousands of shots,” Rizzuto said of his 3-point prowess. “And it’s just something that’s coming natural in the offense. My teammates are finding me. And whatever I can do to help them, if that’s a 3, I’ll shoot a 3, if it's posting up, I’ll post up.”
After trailing 40-20 at the half, frustrations began to mount quickly for York in a physical game.
With Rizzuto absorbing much of the contact and attention, Mulbah began to assert himself. His athleticism led to open looks for his teammates before he began a fourth-quarter run of his own to put the game away.
Mulbah would score nine of his 19 points in the final frame, as well as providing a highlight jam that looked to remove any possible doubts about the outcome midway through the fourth.
Kyle Generett led York High with 23 points and Marquise McClean added 21.
New Oxford 51, Red Lion 50: At Red Lion, the home team's furious fourth-quarter surge fell a point short. The Lions trailed 46-30 after three periods before outscoring the Colonials 20-5 in the final period. Jamel Foster had 16 points for the Lions, while Tyler Burchett added 10. Deriq Brown and Abdul Janneh split 24 points for the Colonials, while John Wessel added 11.
West York 59, Eastern York 45: At West York, the home team jumped out to a 20-4 lead after one quarter and never looked back. Alex McClellan poured in 21 points for the winners, including six 3-pointers, while Andrew LaManna added 11. Demonte Martin (12) and Trevor Seitz (11) hit double digits for Eastern.
Kennard-Dale 65, York Suburban 40: At Fawn Grove, Joey Thomas poured in 28 points, including seven 3-pointers, and Adam Freese added 16 to spark K-D. Willie Batty and Keyvon Wright each had 10 points for Suburban.
Central York 72, South Western 55: At Central, Garrett Markey and Landyn Ray split 32 points to power the Central attack. Cade Pribula added 11 points for the Panthers, who improved to 7-4 overall and 5-1 in York-Adams Division I.
York Catholic 68, Biglerville 31: At Biglerville, D'Andre Davis enjoyed a 27-point night to spark the Fighting Irish, who improved to 8-3 overall and 5-0 in York-Adams Division III.
Dallastown 58, Spring Grove 47: At Dallastown, Braden Caldwell's 23 points sparked the Wildcats to the win. Grant Sterner had 15 points to pace Spring Grove.
Littlestown 61, York Tech 44: At Littlestown, Logan Collins' 21 points sparks the Thunderbolts. Terance Romey scored 12 for Tech.
Reach Elijah Armold at email@example.com.