The Newfield Trojans boys basketball team is heading to the state tournament for the third time in four years. After Newfield won the IAC Small School Championship this year, the Section IV bracket developed in a way in which they met the IAC large school champion, Watkins Glen, in the sectional finals. The showdown on Saturday, March 7, turned out to be a thriller, with Newfield coming out on top 63-60.
Head coach Chris Bubble began his tenure in the 2016-17 season, meaning all three of the recent state tournament appearances have occurred under his watch in his short time as coach. This year, he watched his team fight hard for the championship, holding off a fiery Watkins Glen comeback effort in the fourth quarter.
“[The players] agreed that it was perhaps a little more exciting than we’d hoped,” Bubble said. “I said in the pregame that if you’re a basketball fan, it would be a great basketball game. They’re a well-coached team. We’re a pretty well-coached team. We both play really hard for what’s at stake. I think it turned out to be just that: a great game.”
What was a 19-point lead earlier in the contest dwindled down to just two in the final period. The Trojans had to dig deep to make sure they wouldn’t throw away a Section IV Championship against a talented team like Watkins Glen, who came in as the top seed.
“We knew that they would give us a good go eventually,” Bubble said. “You saw the nerves from Jalen [Hardison] and a little bit from Daejahd [Leckey]. But those are guys who when we go back and watch the tape will learn from those things because they’re both pretty cerebral players. I have to remind myself, as great as Jalen is, he’s only a freshman. He’s bound to make a few errors here and there.”
Watching a massive lead shrink down, like Newfield did, can be troubling for teams. However, the Trojans responded by hitting several massive three-point shots when the lead was too close for comfort.
“Jacob [Humble] hit the first one when they cut it to two,” Bubble said. “For him and the rest of us, I think it was a sigh of relief to know, ‘We can still hit jump shots, we’ll probably be OK.’ It turned out that Daejahd hit one then Josh [Wood] hit another one. In those critical situations, [I admire] the courage of those guys to hit those big shots that are really important.”
Leading the way in the contest was the IAC MVP Josh Wood. The senior scored a game-high 23 points and stepped things up late in the game to ensure the win. Bubble believes his past experiences have helped him become the dependable player he now is.
“[Josh Wood] is a kid who’s been around for a long time,” he said. “He was on a team with Stephen LaBarge, Quintel Clements and Greg Moravec - three guys who, when it came to crunch time, really got after it and would find a way to make plays when we needed them. He learned from being on that team watching those guys execute in critical situations.”
Wood stands at 6’1” and can contribute with deep jump shots as well as battling near the basket for rebounds, making him a tough assignment defensively.
“The interesting thing about Josh is that he’s difficult to have to scheme defenses against because if you put a big slow guy on him, he has the ability to shoot, dribble and stretch you away from the rim,” Bubble said. “If you put a smaller guy on him, he can score the ball around the front of the rim in the painted area. He’s turned into a great leader for us and certainly a great basketball player.”
Newfield has had plenty to cheer about this basketball season. Both the girls and boys won the IAC Championship in the same year for the first time since 1980, and now the boys are looking to make a state title run. The crowds have been consistently excellent this season for Trojans basketball.
“The community support has been great,” Bubble said. “For better or worse, Newfield is a basketball town. We reap the benefits of that. Our Candor sectional game was a sold out gym, which is really fun to be a small school and have that kind of environment to play a basketball game. It follows us. Wherever we go, the crowd seems to be big.”
The ability to maintain success is what makes Newfield basketball special. Before the stretch of Section IV Championships under coach Bubble, they made another state tournament appearance in 2015 under then-coach Duane Barrett.
“It’s interesting because people ask me all the time about what makes us successful,” Bubble said. “I think it’s just a reflection of having a program that can sustain itself. Duane [Barrett] started the thing. I coached JV under him as the varsity coach for seven years. He and I have a great working relationship. I learned a lot working from him.”
Bubble explained that allowing his players to be free on the court offensively and not trapping them in schemes helps develop talent that can contribute consistently. The next challenge for Bubble’s talented squad will be Section III representative Weedsport. Both teams are ranked in the top-10 in the state at the Class C level, with Newfield coming in at seventh, and Weedsport coming in at fifth.
“I have a couple of contacts up in Section III,” Bubble said. “We got a couple of films and we are at the point of the year where everybody’s good. But we look at the film and like what we see in terms of a good matchup for us and a really competitive basketball game. They have some size, and that’s something we’ll have to contend with.”
Ultimately, Bubble said that win or lose, this has been a “fantastic season” for Newfield. Of course, he’d rather win come Saturday. The regional round matchup against Weedsport will take place at 1:45 p.m. on Saturday at Onondaga Community College’s SRC Arena in Syracuse. Those who cannot make it can listen to the game on ESPN Ithaca 107.1FM/1160AM and the ESPN Ithaca app with pregame coverage starting at 1:15 p.m.
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