SALEM - The Salem boys basketball team did everything it could to be the first to knock down Alliance this season.
The Quakers kept the game very close with a more collaborative effort, but the Aviators outplayed the Quakers just enough to keep their undefeated season intact with a 64-61 victory at John Cabas Gymnasium on Friday.
The Aviators (5-0, 3-0) relied on their top shooters, J.J. Kukura and Parrish Martin, who each hit for 20 and 17 points respectively.
"We had played for so long, and I think that helped us," Martin said. "Our shooting had improved and so did our press."
Kukura knew though the Aviators could have done better, even as Dale Dickson shot 15 points from the bench.
"It was an all-around scoring effort from everyone, including Dale," Kukura said. "We need to be a little more consistent though, it didn't seem to be a big night shooting for us."
Even Aviators coach Larry Kukura knew that J.J. had an off-night of sorts.
"Usually we see J.J. hitting 25 or 30," Kukura said. "This was sort of a low night for him. He didn't shoot as high as usual. Tonight was a little more collaborative effort though."
The Quakers (2-5, 1-2) found early success in sophomore D.J. Pullie, who hit 21 on the night, and was responsible for many of the 16 lead changes throughout the game.
"A lot of us weren't expecting us to come at it so hard," Pullie said. "Just a couple more of those shots to fall, and we were in it. We played our butts off."
Pullie's three three-pointers all came in the first quarter, and made a difference as the Quakers and Aviators were even at 17 after the first, and he feels that his improvement is ongoing as the season progresses.
"For the most part, I feel like I've improved," Pullie said. "I know it's late in the season, so we can't use 'unexperienced' anymore."
In the last few games, senior Max Wolfgang led the team, and although Wolfgang put up another strong showing with 17 points, more players stepped up the plate.
Salem coach Rich Hart noted on Monday that a bigger contribution from other players was needed, and Hart found that contribution from Mike Ciotti's 12 points off the bench.
"D.J. and Ciotti has been playing well," Hart said. "Ciotti is like our sixth man. He comes off and gives us some instant offense, and if he can continue to do that, that'll be big."
Along with the contribution and improvement comes a high confidence level from the Quakers as the team moves on next week against Marlington and Minerva.
"The biggest thing is that we got down early, and our kids never backed down," Hart said. "I think our kids have a lot of confidence, and felt they should have beat the best team in the league."
Alliance also won the junior varsity game in close fashion 44-40.
D.J. Hancock led the Aviators with 12 points, while Brandon Weikart shot for 14 for the Quakers.
All NBC games next Friday, including the Salem-Marlington game, will start one hour earlier, with junior varsity starting at 5 p.m. and varsity at 6:30 p.m., so that families can watch the Orange Bowl as Ohio State battles Clemson.
ALLIANCE SCORING: Parrish Martin 6-3-17, Kordelle Phillips 1-2-4, Jairon Bracket 2-1-5, J.J. Kukura 7-5-20, Mike Williams 0-1-1, Dale Dickson 7-0-15, Aeryon Williams 1-0-2, Josh Hammerton 0-0-0 . TEAM TOTALS: 24, 12-21: 64
SALEM SCORING: D.J. Pullie 7-4-21, Mark Frederickson 0-0-0, Andrew Dolphin 0-0-0, Ryan Hoover 2-1-5, Max Wolfgang 6-5-17, Mike Ciotti 4-2-12, Mike Popa 0-0-0, Trey Toothman 2-0-4, Jake Bezon 0-2-2, Alex Weikart 0-0-0. TEAM TOTALS: 21, 14-23: 61.
Three-point goals: Alliance 4 (Martin 2, Dickson, Kukura), Salem 5 (Pullie 3, Ciotti 2).