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The longest bus ride home from a conference road game may have been a little shorter for the Canton South High School boys basketball team last Friday.
That's because the Wildcats loaded the bus for an hour-long ride home from Salem after sweating out a 78-70 win over the Quakers in a hostile environment. It was the first of two road wins on back-to-back nights as the Wildcats defeated Fairless 66-38 Saturday night and improved to 10-0.
Soon after Friday's win, South senior point guard Armand Fontes said his team would be able to relax on the ride back to Canton Township.
"It makes it so much easier because now we can joke and clown around," Fontes said. "If we would have lost, it would have been much more quiet."
Nonetheless, South embraced an electric atmosphere at Salem High School as fans packed the stands for an NBC battle of undefeated teams. Both sides erupted after each team made big plays.
The South and Salem student sections went back and forth at each other trying to get an edge with rhythmic and sometimes insulting chants.
Fontes said the big crowd was certainly a motivation.
"This is why you play," he said. "There was a lot of atmosphere and a lot of energy."
"You want to do your best when you have a crowd like this."
Fontes had a big night and got South's offense going in scoring 10 of the team's first 12 points. He finished the game with a team-high 24 points.
Neither team took control in the opening quarter and Salem's size didn't allow South to get much inside early.
Salem took the lead in the second quarter and fired up its crowd thanks to a break away two-handed slam by Ryan Bush with 5:01 to play before halftime.
Bush was explosive for the Quakers on offense with an outside shooting presence and an ability to finish at the rim.
"He's a great athlete and we know the kinds of things that he can do," South head coach Frank Spotleson said.
Bush poured in a game-high 38 points and scored 17 of them in the first half.
Spotleson was pleased his team limited the rest of the Quakers to 10 points in the first two quarters.
"Holding them to 27 points was pretty good," he said. "I thought we did a nice job on defense in the first half."
Bush's dunk may have lit a fire under South as Kyle Deckerd's right elbow jumper off the glass capped a 10-0 run with 1:59 left before halftime. The Wildcats led by 10 at the break.
After the first quarter, South's offense found ways to get inside and attacked Salem's defense.
Fontes received the benefit of numerous back door cut plays, something South has been running since his freshman year.
"They were over-playing me and I got hot," Fontes said, "and my teammates found me off that back door play."
Austin Jolliff delivered an exclamation point with 1:12 left in the game which made the visiting fans and students go crazy. The 6-foot-5 senior forward received an outlet pass off a turnover and threw down a two-handed slam with Salem defenders quickly approaching.
"It was real nice," Fontes said of the play. "We knew he could throw one down because he has done it in practice and we were waiting for him to throw one down."
The Wildcats led by as many as 20 in the fourth quarter, but Salem stayed in the game thanks to some hot 3-point shooting. The final 8-point margin was the closest the Quakers got.
In its win over Fairless the following night, South doubled up the Falcons in the second half en route to a 28-point win.
Deckerd's 15 points and Josh Lyon's 14 points led the Wildcats who had ten different players score in the game.
Spotleson said getting some of his reserves in the game will help keep his team fresh.
"It was our second week of back to back games and we welcome any opportunity to rest players," he said, "but even more, we welcome the opportunity to reward the hard work all our players put in day after day, week after week and Saturday was our chance."
The Wildcats are now enjoying one of the best starts in school history. Fontes said one reason for the hot start and a turn around from a six-win season last year is a message Spotleson gives before each contest.
"Just to have fun," Fontes said. "That's the message he has on the board before every game."
South was set to play two conference games this week beginning with a home game against Carrollton on Tuesday. The team will go back on the road Friday to face Alliance.