Tempe High cupboard far from bare - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Tempe High cupboard far from bare

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Posted: Saturday, January 14, 2012 3:00 am | Updated: 6:21 pm, Tue Jan 17, 2012.

When boys basketball players join programs like Mountain View, Mesa or St. Mary's, there is an expectation that a deep playoff run will happen sometime in their high school careers.

Tempe is not one of those schools.

The Buffaloes hadn't made the state tournament since 2001, but behind star Jordan Baker, the Buffaloes advanced to the 4A Division II championship game last year before falling to Tucson Amphitheater.

The team played two games in Jobing.com Arena, and had the school and its alumni buzzing.

"It was the best experience of my life," guard Nyial Watson said.

Baker was a four-year varsity starter and is already playing a big role for Pepperdine this year as a freshman. He averaged 27.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game last year. Tempe coach Bryan Snyder called him the best player he has ever had.

Not surprisingly, there were questions about how the Buffaloes would fare this season without him.

"Can you do it without Jordan?" was a question commonly directed at guard Jack Carrethers.

"That's all I've been hearing," forward Dequan Hughes said.

Although Baker and second-leading scorer B.J. Atkins moved on, the Buffaloes had Watson (8.6 points per game) and Isaiah Haynes (9.6 points, 6.6 rebounds) returning to lead the way. That is, until a leg fracture and resulting complications over the summer knocked Haynes out for the year, which left Watson as the only main contributor back from last year.

The Buffaloes started out as many expected with three losses in their first four games. They crept back up to .500 through six games, but were demolished by Arcadia on Dec. 6. The Buffaloes knocked off the higher-seeded Titans in the 4A-II quarterfinals last year, but lost by 29 points in the rematch.

At that point, the team's seniors felt like they were at a crossroads. With a road game coming up against a ranked Saguaro team, the group assembled and relayed the importance of winning the game.

Tempe did so, traveling to Saguaro and pulling off the 83-72 victory.

"That's the game where you start believing more," Snyder said.

The win over the Sabercats was the start of something special. Tempe reeled off 11 victories in a row until a 63-61 loss to South Mountain on Thursday. The Buffaloes came up one game short of tying the school record of 12 consecutive victories, something not even the Baker-led teams could accomplish.

"We go out here and win 11 games in a row?" Hughes said. "That's hard to do for anybody."

Tempe is getting contributions from everywhere. Watson leads the way with 15.1 points per game, while Carrethers and Hughes both average double figures.

Shooting guard Erik Carr was on junior varsity last year, but the senior recently scored 22 points in a win over Seton Catholic and has been a pleasant surprise. Carr went 0-for-12 with zero points in the team's first two games this year and is now a valuable part of the team.

"Starting out I didn't think I (would have an impact), no," he said. "Not with the great players we already had. But after awhile of playing with the guys that are already up here, I felt good and comfortable."

The Buffaloes captured the Maricopa Hoops Holiday Classic title over the December break, and, after the 1-3 start, were 14-5 heading into a matchup against Campo Verde on Friday.

Tempe has to face Arcadia and Saguaro again in the regular season, and despite the winning streak, still isn't considered one of the main contenders for the Division II crown like it was last year.

Then again, no one thought the Buffaloes would win 11 games in a row, either.

"We made history last year and now we're making history this year," Watson said. "Let's keep doing it."

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