NIAGARA FALLS — Grand Island coach Nate Beutel saw enough from the glory days of Niagara Falls basketball to say the Wolverines are back.
Well, almost to say it.
The Niagara Falls boys basketball team had little trouble with Grand Island in a 94-38 romp on Friday night as both teams opened Niagara Frontier League play.
“They’re the quickest team, they’re the most athletic team, they’re the most talented team,” Beutel said. “They’re the best team in the league. Sal (Constantino) has them going right where they need to go.”
Beutel covered the Wolverines as a Gazette sports reporter and the rookie head coach had high praise for the Constantino-led Wolverines.
“I’d be careful to say that they’re back, I don’t want to put that pressure on them,” Beutel said. “But they are playing harder than any Niagara Falls team that I’ve seen play.”
The Wolverines (3-0, 1-0 NFL) came out flying and established a big lead with quick defense and lights-out shooting. They worked the ball well offensively and limited shots on the defensive end against an overmatched Vikings (1-4, 0-1 NFL) squad.
A 20-point first quarter lead gave Niagara Falls a comfortable margin throughout, but the Wolverines never slowed down its high-tempo game.
With another tough game against Canisius today at 4:30 p.m., Constantino said it was important for his team to give another good effort no matter who the opponent, especially guarding on the defensive end.
“We’d like to think that it’s a habit,” he said. “You can’t turn it on and turn it off.”
Marcus Feagin finished with 17 points and 18 rebounds for the Wolverines, while Taijay Williams and Ja’leo Wilkins each added 15. Niagara Falls had 10 players on the scoresheet on Friday night, and Constantino was glad his bench players get valuable minutes.
Grand Island got another good game from Steve Vitello, who had 17 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks on the night. Tom Dzielski also finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds, and Beutel said he was happy his team kept fighting despite the lopsided scoreboard.
“I just told them they need to take away the couple positives that there were, learn a few things and do better come next Tuesday,” Beutel said. “We played hard right to the end, I never complain about that.”
Final score aside, Constantino said he was also impressed by the effort Beutel’s Vikings showed.
“I looked and we’re up 40-something and there’s a minute something left and his kids are diving for loose balls, that’s impressive,” Constantino said. “That’s Nate, he instills that in them and he’s done a nice job with them.”
Beutel’s first taste of league play wasn’t the result the first-year coach hoped for, but he said the worst is over after Friday night.
“I think it gets easier from here,” Beutel said. “I’m not saying that the other teams are slouches or anything but I think it will be more at our pace and we’ll be able to compete.”
For Niagara Falls, a trip to Canisius will be another good test of the Wolverines defense. Matt Hart and Adam Weir put on a 3-point shooting exhibition for Canisius in the Cataract City Classic, and guarding those two will be a tough task.
“They have some guys who can flat out shoot it,” Constantino said. “We’re going to have to get out on those guys on the perimeter.”
Guarding the outside shot will be key on defense, but Constantino said the key to the game will be controlling the boards and using Niagara Falls’ dominant post play.
“If we can continue to get the ball inside and keep our posts happy and keep them running, I think we have a really good chance tomorrow,” Constantino said.