HUGOTON — By the time Syracuse scored its first points of the game on Friday night, Hugoton’s Zack Leininger had already scored 10.
The 6-foot-2 sophomore finished the game with 20 points, leading the Eagles to a season-opening win over the Bulldogs, 51-28.
Hugoton’s quickness and dual inside threat of Leininger and 6-6 Tony Kinser played havoc with Syracuse all night long, holding the Bulldogs to just a field goal in the opening quarter, and forcing 10 turnovers in that 8-minute span.
It was enough to keep Syracuse in check the rest of the night as the No.-7 team in Class 4A-Div. II took care of business.
Leininger scored his second field goal off a no-look pass from guard Parker Titus and his third on a pass from Kellen Watkins.
Meanwhile, Kinser was having a night as the block king, swiping away six shots during the game and clogging up the inside.
After an 18-10 second quarter that took the lead to 30-12 at the break, it proved to be too much of a hole for Syracuse.
“Defensively, especially in the first half, we played well, and that allowed our offense to get in transition and some easy baskets,” Hugoton coach Craig Szymczak said.
The first couple of games the offense is usually slower than the defense, he noted, so by getting out on defense as quickly as they did gave the Eagles’ offense some early confidence.
Being athletic allowed his defense to extend and get out quickly with the pressure, he said.
With the 18-point lead at the break, Szymczak hoped his team would come out strong in the third period.
They got the lead to 20, then failed to score on their final seven possessions.
Fortunately, Syracuse, which hit the boards stronger that period as well as all night (they won that battle 28-26), also had trouble scoring.
It’s something Szymczak said his team needs to work on, but they got back on track eventually and finished the game strong.
Titus, from the guard position, led the Eagles with eight boards. Leininger had six, as well as two blocks.
Titus also had nine points.
Leading scorer for Syracuse was Dexter English with eight points
Bulldogs coach Jeff Mathias described his team’s effort as “sporadic.”
“I thought at times we had some flashes. Offensively there were some things we did okay — it just was too inconsistent,” he said.
Finding that consistency and playing better defense, he said, will make them a better team than the Bulldogs were Friday.
Getting down early and having to come back in the second half put too much pressure on a team this early in the season, Mathias said.
“We tell the kids to chip away at it; it doesn’t have to all happen at once,” he said. “But it’s tough. You feel like you’re behind the 8-ball all game. When the offense isn’t clicking, it just makes it that much tougher.”
The closest Syracuse got was 37-23 late in the third period as they ended with a 6-0 run before Hugoton got hot again in the fourth.
“We’re still trying to figure out rotations and everything,” Mathias said. “Every year it’s a new team and you’ve got to play a game to figure out exactly how things are going to go. A few more games under our belt and that should work itself out a lot better.”
Syracuse plays in the Rolla tournament next week
Hugoton hosts the Blue and Red Classic next week. Szymczak said it’s great to play at home, but he knows the Eagles will have to play tough.
“The field is so close that anyone can win it, and if you don’t come focused and prepared, you’re going to lose,” he said. “It’ll be great to play at home, though.”
SYRACUSE (0-1)—C. Leyva 1 2-2 4, D. Leyva 1 3-4 5, Keller 1 0-0 2, Ruiz 1 3-4 5, D. English 4 0-1 8, Kulot 1 0-1 2, C. English 1 0-0 2. Totals 10-36 8-13 28
HUGOTON (1-0)—Titus 4 0-0 9, Armendariz 1 0-0 2, Leininger 9 2-2 20, Heger 1 3-6 5, Korf 1 0-0 3, Watkins 3 0-0 6, Duarte 1 0-0 2, Kinser 2 0-0 4. Totals 20-49 5-8 51
Syracuse 2 10 9 5 — 28
Hugoton 12 18 7 14 — 51
3-point goals—Syracuse 0, Hugoton 2 (Titus 1, Korf 1). Rebounds—Syracuse 28 (D. Leyva 6, Ruiz 5), Hugoton 26 (Titus 8, Leininger 6). Turnovers—Syracuse 21, Hugoton 10. Personal fouls—Syracuse 13, Hugoton 15. Technical fouls—none.