Manhattan College’s Draddy Gymnasium was the setting for this year’s Buzzell Game, pitting the Horace Mann Lions against the Riverdale Falcons for local Bronx bragging rights. And when the final buzzer sounded, it was Riverdale who celebrated a 63-57 victory.
But this game — which honors the memory of former Horace Mann student Robert Buzzell, a polio victim from the 1950s — took on a different meaning for Riverdale. In fact, it was the first game played since the death earlier this month of long-time Riverdale coach Al Davis, who — according to the Riverdale athletics Twitter feed — missed only his second Buzzell Game in 64 years.
“We are all better for knowing you coach,” according to the tweet. “We won this for you.”
Davis first arrived on the Riverdale campus in 1953, and retired in 1987. But he later returned to the Falcons program as the school’s historian and archivist. Davis died on Feb. 6, which only made the victory over Horace Mann last Saturday that much sweeter for his longtime school.
“The win feels good, (we) came out to play today,” Falcons’ head coach Steven Bluth said. “Obviously this is an important night for the guys.”
Reid Slott led the Falcons early, hitting a pair of three-pointers in the first quarter as Riverdale built a 21-10 lead after the first eight minutes. Horace Mann fought back, however, tallying 32 points over the next two quarters to knot the contest at 42 heading into the final period.
The free throw line then shifted the narrative in favor of Riverdale as Noah Sacherman and Sam Klores collected nine crucial points from the line down the stretch to break the game open for the Falcons.
Three Riverdale players scored in double figures, all led by Klores, who finished with a game-high 19 points. Slott added 15 and Sacherman chipped in 13 to lead a balanced Falcons attack.
Although the high stakes of the game were evident to players on both sides, this was the first time Bluth got to experience the Buzzell Game as Riverdale’s head coach.
“I’m just learning this Riverdale-Horace Mann rivalry thing,” the first-year coach said. “This is new to me. It’s fun.”
Before flying with the Falcons, Bluth served as the head coach and athletic director at neighborhood rival Fieldston.
“Years ago when I was with Fieldston, we played in this game once,” Bluth said. “It was different. It wasn’t like this. It’s a cool rivalry.”
And with the rivalry comes a higher level of determination.
“I think the guys are realizing that the season is coming to an end soon,” Bluth said. “And you don’t have to motivate them for a game like this.”
For Riverdale, the puzzle pieces are coming together rather nicely in what could end up being a special season for the Falcons.
“We’re 16-3,” Bluth said, “but we still have challenges ahead of us.”
As the Falcons look toward closing the book on their impressive regular season, they still have to take down Dalton on Friday if they hope to keep their dream of an Ivy League title alive. Dalton is currently sitting atop those league standings.
“That’s our last game of the season, and we’re looking to finish strong,” Bluth said. “Dalton is a good team. We just need to clean some things up on our end.”
Riverdale was slated to host Collegiate on Feb. 11, and visit the Trinity School Feb. 13 before the Dalton matchup. The Falcons dropped their first meeting with Collegiate 57-45 on Jan. 23, but knocked off Trinity 66-48 on Jan. 18.
The Falcons have previously beaten Dalton in a meeting last December.
For Bluth, Riverdale’s success this season is nothing more than a “one-possession-at-a-time” proposition.
“Right now, we’re still vying for a league championship and gearing up for the state tournament, but we’re still talking about every possession,” Bluth said. “We’re not talking about winning, we’re not talking about state championships. We have to focus on every single possession.
That’s the goal, and it’s not an easy goal.”