RENSSELAER — Rensselaer Central opened the season with aggression and precision to dominate Tri-County by a 77-49 final at Joe Burvan Gymnasium Friday night.
The Bombers forced 26 total turnovers and hit 15 of 29 shots from the floor in the first half to build a 20-point lead.
That lead grew to 30 points midway through the fourth quarter as Rensselaer handed TC (0-2) its worst loss in the series in the 2000s. The Bombers beat the Cavs, 72-50, back in 1997-98, but have rarely won by double figures against their rivals.
“We really did hit the ground running, which is important for us,” Bombers coach Chad Pulver said. “The guys, to their credit, talked about how to come out with energy, how to come out with execution. They were ready to go.”
Leading RCHS on the aggressive end were seniors Alex Gull and Noah Bierma, who combined for 12 steals in the team’s suffocating diamond press.
“Give Rensselaer all the credit,” Cavaliers coach Mark Gretencord said. “They dictated the entire game. They pushed the pace to where I’m not sure we were ready for that kind of pace. We had big time turnovers that led to easy baskets for them. It looked like we were playing against six guys all night. They were just everywhere. Their hands were active and they did a great job of dictating the entire game.”
Junior Josh Fleming added three steals and led all scorers with 24 points on 9 of 14 shooting. He had 20 points by the halftime buzzer.
“He was great in the press,” Pulver said of Fleming, who was the team’s top sixth man last year. “He’s worked so hard in the summer and into the fall. He is in good basketball condition and stronger than he’s been in the past. He’s added a drive to his game. He has a nice pull-up jumper as well as a set shot. Tonight showed how much he’s grown as a player from his sophomore to his junior year.”
The Bombers scored the game’s first 10 points before TC closed within five of the lead (13-8). But Rensselaer increased its lead to 17-10 by the end of the first quarter.
In the second period, the Bombers hit 9 of 17 shots and forced nine turnovers to get the lead into double figures once again. Fleming had 10 of his team’s 27 second-quarter points, including a pair of 3-pointers, and sophomore reserve Brody Chamness, Gull and Bierma also hit a 3-pointer each to spread their team’s lead to 44-24 by halftime.
The Bombers outscored TC, 27-14, in the second period.
“We said in the locker room, it’s the first game of the year, we can’t come out slow,” Fleming said. “We need to play hard right away and that’s exactly what we did. We did a great job of not letting up after halftime, too, because that’s something that happened last year. We’d come out at halftime and let up and let teams back in it. This year, we kind of gave it to them right away.”
Chamness, Bierma and Fleming hit 3s on consecutive possessions to strengthen Rensselaer’s hold. Senior Justin Cree was the lone Tri-County player to show life on the offensive end, hitting four 3-pointers in the second period. The Cavaliers’ only other field goal in the quarter came on a Korbin Lawson drive to the basket.
“We were taking what they were giving us,” Fleming said. “We just wanted to keep the energy up the whole time. When we got it to 10, we wanted to make the lead 20. Then we wanted to make it 30. We never wanted to sit down for them.”
Cree would finish with a team-high 18 points, with all of his points coming via 3-point baskets. He was 6 of 9 from deep and added six rebounds.
“We knew him and Chase Stearns were capable of hitting those threes,” Gretencord said.” They didn’t hit them Tuesday night (vs. KV), but they did tonight. We expect that from them. Hopefully it opens some things up on the inside when they can start hitting their shots.”
No other player scored in double figures for the Cavs. Junior Jaeden Johnson, who scored a game-high 20 points in a loss to Kankakee Valley Tuesday, was held to two points on 1 of 5 shooting.
He played sparingly in the second half, sitting the entire fourth quarter.
“We knew they had good ball-handlers,” Pulver said of his team’s defense. “We knew we had to be in the gaps. If anyone can hear me at all in the gym, most of the time I’m saying ‘gaps,’ and most of the time our guys knew if we were in the gaps, we had a chance to make them play a style they’re not comfortable with.”
Gull had 14 points with three assists for the Bombers, who entertain KV next Friday. Chamness added a career-best 10 points and Bierma had seven points, six steals, five assists and five rebounds.
The Bombers out-rebounded the smaller Cavs by a 30-23 margin and hit nine 3-pointers to 10 for TC. Stearns was 3 of 6 from deep for nine points for the Cavs, who finished 10 of 17 from behind the arc in the game.
Tri-County returns to action Tuesday when it hosts Carroll.