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ONONDAGA — For about seven minutes during the third quarter, the Maroons showed the type of team they have the potential of being this season.

Against a top team in the section, one excellent stretch was not enough.

Auburn boys basketball was taken down by Jamesville-DeWitt 79-54 in its first game of the season Friday at Onondaga Community College. The contest was part of 16 games taking place at OCC this weekend as part of the Peppino's Invitational.

The Maroons trailed by 20 at halftime and were struggling on offense for most of that first half, but the third quarter showed many signs of improvement. Auburn began to move the ball around, attack the rim and head to the free-throw line, and that resulted in more offense.

Auburn let its guard down in the final minute of that quarter, however, and the Red Rams struck for 12 points in the last two minutes of the third to go ahead 59-33.

"A lot of teams would have quit (at halftime) but they came back," Auburn coach Jim Marsh said. "We ran some sets to try and give them a different look and it worked. They got (the deficit) from 20 down to 12 pretty fast. We attacked the rim, put some guys in some different spots where they were more comfortable, and I thought we did a really good job of not quitting and staying with the flow."

The Maroons couldn't contend with Jamesville-DeWitt's ability to hit the open 3s. The Red Rams, a Section III, Class A favorite this season, knocked down 15 triples. Even scarier is that five different players hit 3s, making it difficult for Auburn's defense to key in on one player.

"They were just so tough offensively tonight. I don't think they can shoot it any better than that," Marsh said. "They have five guys on the floor that can all shoot 3s. That's really tough to defend against. They can put up a lot of numbers."

Kaleb Cook was Auburn's leading scorer, converting 22 points. Shaheed Beal was next up with 16 points. Troy Churney and Jay Baranick each finished with five.

Cook, who hit two 3s and was 6-for-7 on free-throw attempts, was named Auburn's player of the game. He, along with Beal, will be the Maroons' go-to scorers this season, and that much was evident in Auburn's opening game.

For the Maroons to contend this season, it'll be crucial for the supporting cast to manufacture offense in case Cook or Beal have off nights, or the opposition manages to shut the pair down.

"We have guys that can help us against most teams," Marsh said. "The tendency when you have two great players like Shaheed and Kaleb is that you watch a little too much. You tend to watch because you think they can do it all, and they do, but you've got to move to open spots to make it easier for them to find you."

Marsh also knows his team is fighting an uphill battle when it comes to height — an issue that has plagued the Maroons for a handful of years — but he expects his team to battle and force plenty of turnovers against teams less talented than Jamesville-DeWitt.

"This is my fourth year at Auburn and we've had quite a bit of talent the last two years," Marsh said. "We have a lot of guys that will fight and they're tough kids. Our tallest starter is 6-1 and that's a tremendous disadvantage, but they're a great group of guys. They love each other, they play together well, we have fun at practice and they're doing the right things."

Auburn is home against Whitesboro on Tuesday, Dec. 4.

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Sports writer Justin Ritzel can be reached at 282-2257 or at justin.ritzel@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @CitizenRitz.

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