NILES - Red Dragons coach Ron Price has his team playing much better this season than in years past.
Niles has put together a winning record in Price's first season and looked at Saturday's home game against LaBrae as a litmus test to see where it stood as the tournament looms just a few games away.
The Vikings showed Niles that while it has improved, it still has a ways to go to challenge LaBrae, one of the area's best. The Vikings took control early and went on to a 74-59 victory at War Memorial Gymnasium.
"I thought we did a nice job playing at our pace and getting some easy transition points," LaBrae coach Chad Kiser said. "We were really able to get rebounds. We were able to get some transition points early. That built up the lead a little bit."
Price said falling behind early spelled doom for the Red Dragons.
"First quarter they had a couple kids hitting shots. The strength of (Carl Brown) and the (Peyton) Aldridge kid," he said. (Aldridge's) so unselfish and does so many things that people don't see. First quarter was our downfall. We needed an even quarter, now you're fighting back after that first quarter and that's the ultimate difference."
LaBrae (13-3) fell behind 2-0 but had a 21-9 lead at the end of the first quarter. Aldridge scored eight of his team-high 18 points in the period, making a pair of free throws and following up with a steal and layup for a 16-9 lead.
The most excitement came in the third quarter. Aldridge hit the floor in the paint at the offensive end and Niles (10-8) was called for a foul. Price and Kiser had words, disagreeing whether Aldridge had been fouled or went down on his own.
"(Price) thought he just fell. I felt the kid pushed him," Kiser said. "He just kind of grabbed him and threw him down. Typically, that's not anything coach Price's kids do. They're not dirty players. I felt they were frustrated in trying to box Peyton out."
"I don't know. I thought I heard somebody say 'cheap shot' and my kids don't cheap shot anybody. I don't tolerate it," Price said.
Moments later, Niles' Chris Parry and a Vikings player got tangled up. Parry appeared to take umbrage and had to be restrained by his teammates and earned a technical for his efforts. Aldridge hit both free throws and Brown made two more on the subsequent possession for a 36-21 lead.
"We got called for an over the back and the kid did a little two-hand push following the play," Kiser said. "I think again that was the frustration level."
Price said he wasn't sure if the technical was an appropriate call or not and would determine later on if it was.
"We'll check the film. We'll see if something's on the film," he said. "If he did nothing wrong, then we'll move on and it was a bad call. If he did something, it'll be dealt with in our team. He's a competitor; things happen. Our program's not about technical fouls."
Aldridge added eight points in the third quarter. Price was asked what possibilities there are in defending the 6-foot-7 junior, who's 4 inches taller than Niles' tallest player.
"You just try and contain him. He's a complete player," Price said. "We had a couple layups we had a chance at and he came out of nowhere and blocked them. Those all add up."
Ray Russ paced Niles with a game-high 19 points, including 12 in the third.
"Ray Russ is one of the best guards around," Kiser said. "We had to make sure to keep him in front of us and not give him penetration."
The Red Dragons began gunning in the fourth quarter in an effort to stay in the game. Niles made four 3-pointers in the period and had 11 for the game. Junior Marcus Hill made three triples in the fourth and scored 13 points overall.
"They got down big in the fourth and they really spread it out and shot the ball really well from 3-point range," Kiser said. "When they tried to trap us we were able to move the ball and get some nice, easy buckets."