The Niskayuna boys’ basketball team didn’t care that its opening-night win Tuesday over Saratoga Springs wasn’t the most eye-catching.
When the game ended, the Silver Warriors were on the right side of the score.
“It didn’t matter if we had to grind it out at the end, make some stops, get hands in people’s faces,” said second-year head coach Bryan Mattice of the 45-42 Suburban Council home victory. “It was the first game of the year, and it’s a win.”
Junior guard Tim Doyle, who moments earlier had gotten called for a five-second violation as he tried to run a play, hit both ends of a one-and-one with 50.7 seconds to play for the final margin.
Niskayuna then got enough defensive pressure to force the Blue Streaks into missing a trio of three-point shots in the closing seconds.
“[Chris] Byno got in tight on me, and I kind of lost track,” Doyle said, of his late-game turnover. “I was glad to get a chance to get to the line. I just took a step back and cleared my head.”
“That was his first varsity start, and young players in that situation sometimes get caught up in everything going on,” said Mattice. “It just shows his character that he could make those free throws.”
The Silver Warriors showed their potential last season when they shook off a lackluster league season and stunned No.1 seed Catholic Central in the Class AA playoffs.
“That showed us what we can do,” said 6-foot-7 junior center Aiden Byrne, one of three junior starters on a roster that shows 10 11th-graders. “It’s good to win our first game. I think we started 1-4 last season.
“But we know it’s a long season. We have to keep working hard.”
Mattice was most pleased that everyone who saw playing time contributed.
“They know five guys are not going to play 32 minutes,” said Mattice. “They know what we want from them when we put them into the game.
“Tonight, Tommy [Kelly] had a good first half. Timmy had a good second-half. We got some big stops on defense.”
Saratoga stayed in the game, cutting a seven-point halftime deficit to three heading into the final eight minutes, as Byno nailed three three-pointers.
His fifth and final trey pulled the Streaks into a 40-40 tie with 2:57 to go.
Doyle answered with the biggest basket of the game. After Kelly’s drive was blocked out of bounds with four seconds left on the shot clock, Doyle caught the in bounds pass and drained a three from the right corner.
Sean Grecco got two of those points back to make it a one-point game, then forced a turnover. But the Silver Warriors pressured Byno into a miss on a three.
Doyle hit his two free throws to make it 45-42, but Niskayuna still had to sweat out the final half-minute.
Mattice wasn’t going to allow Byno to tie or win the game, giving Patrick O’Brien the task of hounding the senior.
“Patrick did a great job of staying with him,” Mattice said. “The way he was shooting, we figured he would be their best option.”
“I play with him in the offseason,” said Doyle. “He can shoot, and tonight, he was making them.”
When Saratoga’s final attempt hit off the rim and the buzzer sounded, the Niskayuna players fell into a pile under the basket.
“It was just a good feeling,” said Byrne. “A good way to get the season started. We’ve got Ballston Spa next, at home, so we need to have another two days of good practices to get ready.
“We’re not going to get too far ahead of ourselves. We’ve got a lot of juniors who played a lot last season, and I think, as the season goes on, we can be a good team.”
Byno 7-1-20, Grecco 3-0-6, Herman 1-0-3, Kircher 1-0-2, Skaine 4-1-9. Totals: 16-4-42.
Byrne 5-0-10, Doyle 5-3-15, Fragnoli 3-0-6, Kelly 4-1-11, Houghtaling 0-1-1, Dame 0-2-2. Totals: 17-7-45.
Saratoga 8 12 15 7 — 42
Niskayuna 12 15 11 7 — 45
Three-point goals: Byno 5, Herman, Doyle 2, Kelly 2.