By Tom Robinson, NEPABasketball.com
YATESVILLE – Nate Kreitzer compared the difference between Nanticoke’s sluggish first half and the Trojans’ championship second-half effort with flipping a switch.
Colby Butczynski did the flipping.
Kreitzer scored 23 points and Butczynski provided the spark that led the Trojans to a come-from-behind, 60-49 victory in a playoff for the Wyoming Valley Conference Division 2 boys basketball title.
“We weren’t as focused as we should have been, especially in a championship game,” Kreitzer said after the rally from a 13-point, second-quarter deficit produced a successful title defense. “ … Second half, the intensity was so much different. It was like we flipped a switch.
“Colby Butczynski started it with his drives to the basket; his strong takes. Then, we picked it up defensively as well.”
Jared O’Day hit two 3-pointers during a 13-3 GAR run to a 30-17 lead with 2:20 left in the half.
To that point, the Grenadiers were doing more than just hitting 3s. They were disrupting each Nanticoke trip up the floor with pressure defense, combining steals with hustle on the offensive boards to get easy baskets as well.
Andy Kozlofski came off the bench to hit a 3-pointer, Kreitzer made two foul shots and Butczynski scored inside six seconds before halftime for a 7-2 close to the second quarter, but when the teams headed to the locker room with GAR in front, 32-24, it was hard to tell whether anything had changed in that brief spurt.
Butczynski scored twice in the first 2:20 of the second half following offensive rebounds, once coming up with the type of loose ball that the Grenadiers seemed to get to every time in the first half.
Kreitzer made the first of his three straight successful 3-point attempts to start the second half.
Dylan Szychowski made a steal and scored.
Kreitzer stole the ball and drove for one basket, creating the first tie at 38-38. After the last of O’Day’s four 3-pointers, Kreitzer used another steal to set up Butczynski for a layup.
Trahjan Krupinski, who had five of his eight rebounds in the third quarter, got to one on the offensive end and found Kozlofski at the foul line for the go-ahead basket, making it 42-41 with 1:10 left in the third quarter.
The Trojans did not stop there.
“Basketball is a game of momentum,” Nanticoke coach John Beggs said. “Once the ball goes in the basket a little bit, you always have a bounce in your step. Once you get a couple stops and a couple things go your way, the energy will come to your team.
“In that third quarter, we had a couple things go our way early, a couple momentum plays. The crowd was great from Nanticoke today. All that together gave us a nice little boost.”
Kreitzer ended the third quarter with a dagger of a 3-pointer, then opened the fourth with a baseline drive to set up an easy Krupinski basket.
When Kreitzer hit the first of two free throws with 5:43 left, it completed a 10-point streak to a 48-41 lead.
After falling into their biggest hole, the Trojans outscored the Grenadiers, 31-11, over the next 12:37.
“I give GAR credit,” said Butczynski, who had 9 points and 5 rebounds in the third quarter and finished what he called his best game ever with 19 points and 9 rebounds. “They fought the whole game, especially the first half. They brought intensity to us.
“We just tried playing a little bit more aggressive and attacking the rim. It worked. We made shots and it gave the crowd the energy.”
Once in front, the Trojans went 8-for-8 from the line, including six by Butczynski, in the final 3:28.
“We hit our free throws, which is big, too,” Kreitzer said.
Nanticoke destroyed GAR on the boards with advantages of 17-6 in the second half and 30-17 for the game.
After forcing just two turnovers in the first half, Nanticoke forced six in the second, getting five of them off of steals.
Kreitzer was 5-for-7 shooting in the second half. He finished with three assists and three steals.
Kozlofski came off the bench to go 3-for-4 and score seven points.
Jake Krupinski chipped in with six rebounds and Szychowski four assists.
Beggs, Kreitzer and Butczynski all agreed that the Trojans had simply been outworked by the energetic Grenadiers in the first half.
“We didn’t think we played with the toughness we need to play with and we’re accustomed to playing with,” Beggs said. “We didn’t think we played with the energy. They were beating us to every ball. They were outrebounding us.
“We had an honest discussion at halftime. We challenged our seniors to lead and our underclassmen to follow. It was a much better second half.
“The outcome was great, but the effort and energy was a starting point.
It was GAR that started strong.
The Grenadiers made their first five shots, four from close range and a 10-footer from Will Johnson in transition.
When they finally missed Curon Smith was there to convert on the rebound for a 12-2 lead midway through the first quarter.
Johnson led four Grenadiers in double figures with 13 points, along with 3 assists and 2 steals.
O’Day started 4-for-6 on 3-pointers for 12 points. Curtis Smith had 11 points, a team-high 7 rebounds and 2 steals. Curon Smith had 10 points, 5 rebounds and 2 steals.
Nanticoke, which also beat GAR last week in what was at the time a first-place showdown, improved to 18-5. The Trojans advance to the first Wyoming Valley Conference Tournament, playing Division 1 champion Hazleton Area in Friday’s 6 p.m. semifinal at Dallas. Crestwood and Wyoming Seminary will play in the later game.
Both the Trojans and Grenadiers were 12-5 in the WVC.
GAR (15-8) is off until the District 2 tournament starts next week. The Grenadiers are currently in position to be the fourth seed in the eight-team Class 4A tournament where Nanticoke is the likely second seed.