The Quakers (10-1, 4-0) got 20 points from Ryan Benchwick, while Justin Allen led the Red Dragons with 17 points.
By JOHN BUTERA
SALEM -- A strong burst before the intermission, yet another balanced attack and the ability to take care of the basketball proved important to Salem High Friday night as the Quakers passed another Metro Athletic Conference test, turning back Niles, 65-49.
The Quakers (10-1, 4-0) got 20 points from Ryan Benchwick and 18 each from Tom Jesko and Tyler Pierce.
Benchwick, who also had eight rebounds and three assists, said, "Really, I think we should be 11-0. Right now I can't wait for the next game. And the rest of the team is thinking like that too."
With Salem clinging to a 21-18 at the 5:17 mark of the first half, the game took a major turn in the Quakers' favor. Niles had seven possessions over that span and the Red Dragons came away with two missed shots and five turnovers. Interestingly, the Red Dragons' turnover with 5:11 to go in the half was their first of the game.
Salem, meanwhile ran off the final 10 points of the quarter to lead 31-18 at the break. Jesko started and ended the rally with 3-point shots, including one on which he was fouled with 1:26 to go. Jesko missed the free throw, but Salem rebounded and ran out the clock without giving Niles another offensive chance.
"They deserved to win, without a doubt," said Niles coach Ron Price, who team made just two baskets in the second period. "We couldn't afford a five-point quarter against a team like Salem, especially the way they've been playing."
Salem had just five turnovers, including none in the fourth quarter and only one in the second half.
"To be honest, other than the Howland game [Salem's lone loss] we've done that all year," said Salem coach Jeff Brink.
After Niles took its final lead of the game, 13-11, at 1:29 of the first quarter, Jesko, who also had seven rebounds and five assists, hit a pair of baskets, one a 3-pointer with time running out, as Salem entered the second period on top, 17-13.
Niles hoped 3-pointers would be their forte, but the Red Dragons managed just 12-of-36 on the night. In fact, Niles (8-4, 3-1) made only four 2-point shots.
Justin Allen, who led the Red Dragons with 17 points, and Sean Cleary had three 3-point baskets each, while William Frech and Joe Razzano added two apiece.
Niles within 11
In the third period Pierce's eight points helped Salem take a 43-26 lead with 1:56 remaining. Again Niles had trouble, going the first seven minutes of the period with just two baskets. The Red Dragons made their final run, finishing the third quarter on a 7-1 rally to get to within 44-33.
Cleary's 3-pointer with 7:27 to go in the game made it 44-36, but soon Salem was up 51-36 and well in control.
"We thought we could make a run," added Price, "but with Jesko and Benchwick, we just couldn't contain them."
The Salem gym continued to show strong support for their team.
"This student body gets here two hours before the game," said Brink, "and those 'Quaker Crazies' have been a big part of our success."