By MICHAEL KELLY
NISKAYUNA — To close a recent boys basketball practice, the Niskayuna Silver Warriors lined up to attempt half-court shots. One basket meant practice was done, but a succession of misses would lead to some extra work.
Before any shots were taken, head coach Bryan Mattice turned his gaze toward senior forward Anthony Fragnoli.
“Fragnoli,” called out Mattice, “do you have a celebration planned?”
The answer came in the affirmative and, when senior guard Cliqujion Rock swished home his shot from 40-plus feet away, Fragnoli treated the squad to some gyrations on the gymnasium floor to laughs from his teammates.
The scene was likely not possible for much of the season for the Silver Warriors, who endured an eight-game losing streak from Dec. 12 to Jan. 9. After that, though, the club won three games in a row before falling Jan. 23 to Saratoga Springs.
“When we’ve got a couple wins in our pocket . . . now it’s more about enjoying the game, too,” said Fragnoli. “Part of what we do well is have fun.”
During game action, what the Silver Warriors — 5-9 on the season through Jan. 23 — have done well lately is push the tempo. Following the club’s final loss of its eight-game streak, a 73-20 setback at Shenendehowa, Mattice said his club realized it needed to play at a faster pace.
“After the Shen game, we really went into evaluation mode about things we needed to change with our style of play,” he said. “We want to play faster.”
That has worked for the Silver Warriors, who averaged 70.3 points per game in their three-game winning streak after averaging only 47.7 points in their first 10 games.
“We were having a lot of trouble scoring in our half-court offense, and the guys have really bought into if we get stops — if we play good defense — then let’s get out and run, get easy stuff,” said Mattice. “We have a really effective up-and-down game right now.”
“We’ve just got to keep our minds to it and play fast — but play smart,” Rock said.
The Silver Warriors have been playing with more emotion, too, after lacking passion against Shenendehowa.
“Coach has really stressed the importance of these last few games. They were must-win games for us,” said Fragnoli. “The Shen game, we were looking soft and slow; we didn’t want it.
“Now,” he said, “we’re standing up on the bench, we’re yelling on the court. We’re excited to play.”
That has shown in the club’s box scores, where several players have recently been scoring at high levels.
In the team’s streak-busting Jan. 13 win against Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, junior forward Aidan Byrne had 19 points; in a Jan. 16 win against Colonie, both Byrne and senior guard Pat O’Brien had 16; and, against Columbia, senior guard Tim Doyle had 20 in a Jan. 20 win.
Now, the trick is for the Silver Warriors to keep their momentum going in the regular season’s final weeks. Rock said the club will make sure it does not disappoint.
“We’re Niskayuna. We’ve always got to show up and play,” he said. “We’re the underdogs.”
The Silver Warriors next play Friday at Ballston Spa.