SCHENECTADY — John Miller stayed upbeat. Most of the time, the Schenectady boys’ basketball head coach resisted the desire to call timeouts when things got tough. Even when his team’s lead dwindled as late-game mistakes mounted, the second-year head coach stayed poised on the sideline and urged his Patriots to turn their attention to the next play.
He had to let them figure it out on the court.
That’s the only way his youthful, talented group will learn what it takes to win at a high level.
“And I feel confident in them all the time because I know what they’re capable of doing,” Miller said. “But it comes down to experience. You’re not going to excel right away, not until you go through those experiences.”
Schenectady went through one of them in Tuesday’s Suburban Council opener and came away better for it. A young Patriots squad topped Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake 75-69 despite a big night from the Spartans’ Alexander Jameson, who scored a game-high 30 points, including 13 in the fourth quarter.
“It was like a roller-coaster,” Schenectady senior Lamar Fisher said, “but we had to keep our composure.”
For the most part, Schenectady did that. Its sophomore backcourt of Chris Davis and Jonon White made plays and created a fast tempo throughout the night, while Fisher and junior Kareem Sanders offered key baskets at critical junctures for the Patriots.
“This was a major step for a young team like ours,” Miller said. “This allowed us to find out how to close a game out. For young teams, that’s not easy to do.”
For large stretches of Tuesday’s game, it looked like Schenectady (1-0 Suburban Council, 1-1 overall) wouldn’t need to make any crunch-time plays to hold off Burnt Hills (0-1, 0-1). Schenectady led 40-28 at halftime and maintained a double-digit lead through most of the third quarter.
“We wanted to keep up our pace and come out with energy,” said White, whose team lost its opener to Middletown.
“We were more aggressive tonight,” Davis said.
Often, Davis and White were the ones leading that aggressive style of play. Davis finished with 17 points and White had 10.
“They’re fun to watch,” Miller said. “These guys are going to go through growing pains, but they’re humbled to the fact they have a lot to learn.”
That lesson was delivered in the team’s blowout loss against Middletown. That defeat, Fisher said, was a benefit for the Patriots.
“It was a wake-up call,” Fisher said. “On our team, we have a lot of talent and we could go far this year. We have a lot of confidence, and that loss was a punch in the face — and we needed that.”
A game after that defeat, Schenectady put together a gritty fourth quarter Tuesday to hold off Burnt Hills. Schenectady answered each mini-run from the Spartans with one of its own, and didn’t blink when Jameson banked in a 3 with 42.3 seconds to go to bring Burnt Hills within 70-67. From there, Schenectady took care of the basketball and made enough of its free throws to keep from ever relinquishing its lead.
“We got the job done,” Fisher said.
Fisher had 12 points, while Sanders had a team-high 18 for Schenectady and Kayshawn Cruz added 13. For Burnt Hills, Maxwell Blowers scored 14 points and Jack Wyatt had 11.
Last season, Schenectady didn’t compete in the Section II Class AA postseason tournament. Miller is confident the Patriots won’t repeat that disappointing finish, and is optimistic about the overall direction of Schenectady’s program. For the first time in years, Schenectady is fielding a freshman-level squad — along with its JV and varsity teams — and that addition should strengthen the Patriots’ program moving forward since more high school-age players will be able to continue playing.
“That allows us to expand all of our rosters,” Miller said. “That [benefit] cycles through the whole program. That’s huge for our program.”
So, too, is a win like the one Schenectady scored Tuesday.
“They closed it out,” Miller said. “Big step for a young team. Big step.”
Jameson 9-6-30, Hromada 1-0-3, Slovic 2-1-5, Giaquinto 2-0-4, Blowers 6-0-14, Wyatt 5-1-11, Otis 1-0-2. Totals: 26-8-69.
Fisher 3-6-12, Cooley 0-1-1, Davis 5-3-17, White 3-4-10, Cruz 6-1-13, Clayton 2-0-4, Sanders 7-1-18. Totals: 26-16-75.
Burnt Hills 15 13 20 21 — 69
Schenectady 23 17 15 20 — 75