I-Prep begins play each season in the Lockport Rotary Tournament. The other schools in that tournament are all successful large school programs. Despite being the only Class D school in the City of Buffalo, the Presidents were highly competitive in both games there to start the year, something that had to be a major confidence booster heading into league play. It may have been just what they needed in a tight spot last night. I-Prep is the favorite in Yale Cup II, but in its league opener, found out that means every team will give them their best shot.
Davon Ganf's dunk in overtime put the finishing touches on a strong extra session by I-Prep, as they were able to fend off a fiesty Olmsted team, 71-63. The win improves the Presidents to 3-2 overall, and a 1-0 mark in Yale Cup II.
I-Prep got out to a 12-point lead early in the second quarter, holding Olmsted standout Brandon Roach scoreless to that point and looking like they would soon be on cruise control. After a wave of substitituons and a spirited pep talk from Owls head coach Rich Skrabucha, Olmsted found its pulse and began to show some signs of life. Baskets by Naseem Baynes and Dan Reid were followed by consecutive long-range bombs by Roach, as part of a 10-1 run that cut the I-Prep lead to 20-17. But then the Owls gave upthe last six points of the half and were right back down by nine, 26-17, heading into the break.
Rather than folding, Olmsted came out of the locker room for the third quarter with even better energy than they had started to show before, and a 'one possession at a time' mentality. Thanks to a quick six points from Christian Barnes and eight of Roach's team-high 22 points in the third quarter, the Owls clawed their way back into the game, twice tying things up in the stanza. With the score knotted at 38 each, Davon Gant got loose and threw down a one-handed dunk at the buzzer to give I-Prep a 40-38 advantage through three.
A 6-2 push to start the fourth quarter gave Olmsted its first lead of the game, 44-42. The Presidents came back with a 9-4 surge, with seven of those points coming from Terrence James, to re-establish their lead at 51-48 with two minutes remaining in regulation. However, a technical foul was called on I-Prep and the Owls were able to cash in on the free throws and then sink another pair from a foul called as they retained possession, giving them a 52-51 lead with 1:47 to go.
The game was tied at 53 each, when Jeffery Townsel scored the go-ahead bucket for I-Prep with just 6.8 seconds on the clock. The Owls flew back down the court and gave Dan Reid a look at the potential game-winning 3-pointer. The shot missed, but the rebound was put back up at the buzzer by Athaan Kaudeyr, who scored Olmsted's last five points, to force the extra session.
The Presidents fell behind twice early in OT, but owned the final three minutes of the contest to secure the win. Gant put the finishing touches on the 'W' for I-Prep with another breakaway dunk to end the game.
"Olmsted played great, it was a heck of a battle", I-Prep head coach Shaun Ryan said. "I told those guys going into overtime, just remember how we played those last couple of minutes. They woke up and started playing - it was a heck of a win".
I-Prep had four players finish in double figures: Xavier Maye - 19 points, James - 17 points, Gant - 16 points, and Santiaga - 11 points.
Kaudyer scored 13 points for Olmsted and Reid added 11 points.
On December 2, 2014, I published a post called 'A Random Smattering of preseason thoughts'. One of the "random" things I wrote in that post was in excited anticipation of Amherst and Cheektowaga playing each other twice in ECIC III action. It simply read:
Amherst @ Cheektowaga on 12/16/14 AND Cheektowaga @ Amherst on 1/23/15 could be epic.
I nailed the first part.
In an important early season league game that had all the feel of a mid February contest with a division title at stake, the outcome was unknown until the game-ending buzzer was sounding and the scoreboard clock showed all zeros. Amherst defeated Cheektowaga in stunning fashion, 71-70, in the first of two regular season meetings between a pair of schools that have developed a clear & present rivalry.
With the Tigers trailing by two, Amherst's TC Brown took an inbound pass at the other end of the court as the final seconds ticked down, dribbled over half court near the bench sideline, moved in towards the middle, let a contested 3-pointer fly from straight away as the clock expired, and was mobbed by his teammates after it banked in for the win.
"Coach (Chris Kensy) drew up a dribble play in the huddle, he wanted to get me the ball, he knew I could make a big play," Brown said following the game. "I just threw it up hoping it would go in and it went in".
The result shocked the home crowd, preparing to celebrate a victory just seconds prior. The Warriors players appeared devastated - the players on the court froze after the shot fell, then slowly moved back towards their bench in disbelief. For the Tigers' players, it was pure elation and celebration. For Amherst head coach Chris Kensy, relieved seems to be the best way to describe his demeanor after the game.
"It was such a back-and-forth game, fortunately for us, we were able to make one more play than them at the end" Amherst head coach Chris Kensy said. Then, shaking his head as if his nerves were far from being settled, he said "Sorry, I'm sure you enjoyed it, but wow".
Tied at 13 each late in the first quarter, the scoring runs began, and the momentum continued to swing in each direction the rest of the way. Cheektowaga scored 12 straight to go up, 25-13. The Tigers answered with an 11-1 spurt.
A 30-24 halftime lead for the Warriors disappeared in the first minute of the third quarter, as Amherst quickly tied the game back up. Patrick Plummer and Dominick Welch each canned treys for Cheektowaga in response and their team regained a 38-31 lead. Not to be outdone, Dorian Billups heated up for Amherst, dropping back-to-back long balls and scoring eight of his 18 points during a 14-3 push by the Tigers that gave them a 47-44 lead heading into the final frame.
Amherst built a seven-point lead at the start of the fourth quarter. Cheektowaga came back to tie things at 56 each with 5:06 left in the game, punctuated by a dunk from Welch. After trading leads over the next three minutes, Cheektowaga looked to be on its way to sewing up a victory. A pair of Welch free throws had the Warriors up, 69-65, with under 30 seconds to play.
But a traditional three-point play from Brown with just nine seconds left made it 69-68, and gave the Tigers the chance they needed. Amherst fouled the Warriors, who were only able to cash in on one of two tosses, making it 70-68, and setting the stage for the final, late-game heroics of Brown.
(Qeyion Williams & Niagara Falls look like a top ten once again. Photo by Buffalo News)
As a pollster for the Buffalo News, I'm asked to send in my weekly ballots ranking the top ten large and small schools. The polls don't start until next week, but who wants to wait that long to see a top ten? . Here's a look at how I would have voted this week and some of the rationale used to get there.
1. Jamestown (AA) - With four starters returning to the team that nearly won the Class AA state championship in basketball, after several of its players did win a state championship in football, how could I slide the program who finished last season in this spot, down below anyone else?
2. Canisius (MMA) - They opened their season by winning the Tom Keenan Memorial Tournament, which included knocking off the 17th ranked team in Canada, and did so without TJ Wheatley and on limited practice time due to the football team winning states.
3. Nichols (MMA) - The defending Manhattan Cup champs are imposing and loaded, but need to get back to the level they finished last season at to move up higher. They had no problem with earning it last year.
4. McKinley (A1) - The Macks looked like a team with their sights set on another regional appearance when they took Cheektowaga apart on Saturday.
5. Amherst (A2) - It says a lot about a program to lose a player of Jordan Nwora's calliber (and Justin Jones a couple years back), yet continue rolling. The Tigers have built an outstanding program that I hold in high regard.
6. Williamsville South (A1) - The Billies are just one game into their season, but it was a statement victory on the road at Williamsville North. We'll see how they respond in a game with less emotion.
7. Cheektowaga (A2) - Tonight looms large for the Warriors (hosting Amherst), coming off a disappointing outing at McKinley. The Macks tend to make teams look bad - now it's up to Cheektowaga to make themselves look good.
8. Niagara Falls (AA) - After a year away from this poll, I think the Wolverines deserve a place in it again. No shame in the season-opening loss to the 7th ranked team in Canada, Vaughan, but rather I was impressed with the effort and chemistry that continues to develop at NFHS.
9. Lancaster (AA) - The Redskins are 3-1, with the loss coming in a tight contest against Nichols. Lancaster has big expectations this season, like competing for the title in ECIC I, reaching Buff State, and staying in the company of the top ten.
10. Olean (A2) - Your 2014 Coach of the Year is hard at work ensuring that the winning tradition in Olean marches on after graduating the dream team. A 3-0 start, that includes a seven-point road victory at Williamsville East, gets rewarded with this last spot over Williamsville North and Lew-Port.
1. Park (MMA) - If we're going to consider this group a small school, then they make a pretty easy choice for the top spot. I don't think it's a stretch to suggest they could be this high in the large school poll. It's scary how good this team could be, I've wondered if this could be the team to keep Westhill from repeating as Class B Federation champs.
2. Middle College (C2) - The defending Yale Cup champions and Class C state finalists are re-loaded for another run and have begun the season by cruising past Lockport & Randolph.
3. East (B2) - The addition of 6-8 Jovell Littlejohn and improvement of Damone Brown, along with the winning culture at East, keeps the Panthers as the favorites to repeat as Class B2 champs yet again.
4. Fredonia (B2) - Head coach Greg Lauer has done an outstanding job with this program, building the Hillbillies into a consistent winner that isn't afraid to face top competition and adjusts to the strength of teams they face.
5. St. Mary's (MMA) - Speaking of coaching, how about the success Paul Rath has enjoyed since taking over at St. Mary's? There's been no dip in production by the Lancers over the past two seasons and he'll have this year's group right back in the thick of things, despite graduating all five starters.
6. Silver Creek (C1) - The goal coming into this season was to get the players re-committed to the team, after last year's group struggled with that concept void of the leadership provided by Zed Williams during their run to states. Not only have the Black Knights bought in, but one of WNY's very best, Billy Brooks, has become a leader to his responsive teammates.
7. Salamanca (C1) - The Warriors are out to a 4-0 start this season, coming off an appearance at Buffalo State in Class B2 a year ago. With a good mix of everything, Salamanca has high expectations for this year. Now they're in the same class and division as the team I have one spot ahead of them. Things will get interesting.
8. Tapestry (C1) - A 3-1 start for the Thunderhawks and their lone loss came at the hands of Nichols. Tapestry believes they have the right team this season to not only claim the Charter Cup, but also win its first ever sectional crown.
9. Lackawanna (B2) - The Steelers are 0-3, but the first two were on the road against large schools, and the third was an overtime loss to Timon. I still like this team to win the league in ECIC IV.
10. Health Sciences (B2) - They might not want me attending their games anymore. The Falcons are 2-2, with both losses coming when I was there. Regardless, I saw enough in those losing efforts to make me think this team deserves to be ranked - at least this week.
- As a tribute to one of my favorite players to watch from last season, Lafayette's Lester Diaz, Random Smatterings returns this season and will receive a little hispanic flare as I'll use Spanish to number them. Disfrutar de la temporada.
- During the Pastor-Cooper Showcase, Holland senior Clay Lewis shot a contested 10-footer from the baseline, but failed to draw iron. Head coach Tim Schulz arguing for a foul call pointed out, "he doesn't shoot airballs from 10 feet unless someone hits his arm."
- If no players had transferred out of City Honors a few years back, check out what the Centaurs starting lineup this season could have been (do you think they would have had a shot at the Federation Title in Class B?):
Howard Washington, Cam Lewis, Chris Miner, Matt Cieslik, & Jordahn Summers
- My vote for the best name of any player in Section VI is Cort Williams of Williamsville East, because he could use the nickname "Center" Cort Williams.
- A final score from the start of the season, some of you may have missed: Eden 21, Springville 19
- The unusually long commute that Amherst had to endure to travel to the Pastor-Cooper Showcase may help explain why the Tigers were tied with Kenmore West at halftime, before pulling away in the second half.
- I've never seen the Class B2 sectional champion win the overall Section VI Class B title. It's always the winner from Class B1 who wins the crossover and advances to regionals. I'm calling for that to change this season. Class B2 appears to be loaded with the likes of East, Fredonia, Health Sciences, & Lackawanna, among others. Conversely, Class B1 looks wide open and there for the taking. When predicting the team that would win Class B1 this year, I went with eenie, meenie, miney, mo - the non-my mother told me version.
- Kordell Holness-Lightbody of St. Francis has the early game-high in scoring for this season after a 40-point outing in a loss to West Seneca East.
- Check out these stats lines by Cassadaga Valley's Cody Johnson, an All-Centercourt HM last season: 39 points & 20 rebounds in a win over Falconer and 38 points & 19 rebounds in a win over Pine Valley. Through four games this season, he is averaging 28.3 PPG and 15.3 RPG.
- Canisius junior Stafford Trueheart has picked up offers from both George Washington and Richmond.
- In Section V, Greece Athena (who brought back a ton from its Class AA regional finalist squad) has moved down to Class A this season. They will be considered heavy favorites to return to regionals again and may even be favorites to win a state title.
- Speaking of heavy favorites to win a state title, how about Westhill, who thumped Olean in last year's Class B state championship? They return four starters, including the two who scored 41 & 38 points respectively, against the Huskies.
- Based on early results, Lew-Port looks like they could be a serious contender in the NFL this season.
(Tournament MVP Josh Huffman goes up strong in the final vs. MacNab)
To honor the late Tom Keenan, the former Dean of Students and head basketball coach who led the team to three consecutive Manhattan Cup titles in the 90's, Canisius hosts an annual tournament in his name. The Tom Keenan Memorial Tournament is held in December each season and features high-level teams from out of the area. This season's lineup included a pair of teams from NYC, Nazareth and Fordham Prep, along with Ontario power Sir Allan MacNab, currently ranked #17 in Canada. The Crusaders entered this season as the two-time defending champions of this event. Now, it's a three-peat.
Josh Huffman stroked a pair of free throws with 8.1 seconds remaining in the tournament title game, for the go-ahead points that secured the Crusaders' 77-73 victory over Sir Allan MacNab, making Canisius the champions of the event for a third straight season. Huffman, who finished with 17 points, was awared Tournament MVP after a strong showing as a defender, facilitator, and scorer in both games of the event.
Canisius trailed the Canadian power after one quarter, when MacNab came out firing and connected on four opening-quarter treys, and also converted a pair of three-point plays to account for 18 of its 22 points. They closed the first quarter on a 9-0 run, much to the chagrin of Canisius coach Kyle Husband. When MacNab got the second quarter started with another 3-pointer to take a 25-16 lead, Canisius needed a way to stop the momentum. It came in the form of creating its own. Will Atkinson came off the bench to drill a pair from downtown, and Stafford Trueheart got involved as well, adding five points to what would be a 17-4 Crusader surge.
After taking a one-point lead into the locker room, Canisius maintained its advantage the entire third quarter. However, the Crusaders, who were leading by eight points, once again allowed a late-quarter run by MacNab and clinged to that same one-point advantage with just eight minutes remaining.
Canisius did relinquish the lead once in the the fourth quarter, but never trailed over the final six minutes. The were unable to pull away, however, which led to the down-to-the-wire finish - ultimately pulled out by the Crusaders. Madut Ayiy scored a pair of critical buckets in the final minutes, along with securing some timely rebounds, as Canisius was without Trueheart at the end after he fouled out.
Trueheart had a game-high 19 points in the final, while Justin Jones scored 13 points.
Canisius reached the final by taking care of business against Fordham Prep on Friday, 69-43, a game the Crusaders never trailed in. Trueheart (18 points) had some nice dunks in the season-opener and St. Joe's transfer, Jones (12 points) looked strong in his Delaware Avenue debut.
LaTerrance Reed, who can fill up the rim with the best of them, scored 21 points total in the two games, seemed focused on moving the ball and being a floor general.
Canisius hosts Bishop Kearney at 6:30 pm on Tuesday night, before taking on Jamestown this Saturday in the AdPro Challenge.
Competitive, intense high school basketball games are often won by the team that has a go-to player who can step up in a big spot and makes plays for his team. Other times you'll see a team prevail under those circumstances because they have a floor leader who steadies the ship and maintains composure amidst chaos. On Friday night in its season-opener, Williamsville South was able to confirm what they've believed about themselves since the first day of practice - they have both - and a whole lot of talent around those two main ingredients.
Inside a packed gymnasium at Williamsville North, the Billies withstood the energy from the host Spartans, and then looked to their key players to make plays late. The result was Williamsville South prevailing in a cross-town rivalry game, 76-67, and looking like a serious threat in Section VI's Class A along the way.
From the moment the teams took the floor until the opening tip, there was a wild anticipation buzzing inside the gym. As the action began to unfold, those in attendance had to quickly realize they were in for a treat, which they were. North had its fans in a frenzy immediately, when Dylan Lambert swished a 3-pointer on the first possession. South quickly responded with a bucket, then a trey, then North scored. Just 1:30 into the game, the place is rocking and the teams are tied at five each. It was a theme that would carry on over the first three quarters.
During those first 24 minutes of game action, North led by as many as six points. South had taken a five-point lead at one juncture. But most of those minutes saw the game balloon back and forth, with the Billies seemingly trailing more often than they led. However, looking back over the game scoring, the game was tied on eight different occasions and saw 15 lead changes.
Lambert scored for the Spartans with one minute remaining in the third quarter, giving them a 48-43 lead. Myles Hall and Sam Castronova each scored for South in response, making it a 48-47 lead for North. Then, with nine seconds left in the third, the critical, game-changing moment occured. In a loose ball scramble near the South bench, tempers quickly flared and suddenly players were being restrained. Unfortunately in that moment for North, one of its players pushed one of the Billies in a very confrontational manner, despite the officials efforts to diffuse the situation.
That earned the North player a technical foul and delivered a beautifully gift-wrapped pile of momentum to the Billies. Castronova tied the game from the charity stripe thanks to the 'T' and as South retained possession, they got a long-range bomb off the glass from Jordan Buell to go as the quarter expired, putting South in front, 51-48. The momentum went spilling into the final stanza and wound up being a 14-2 run for the Billies, as they executed against the man defense of the Spartans and took charge. Castronova scored nine points during the decisive run. South was suddenly leading, 57-50, early in the fourth quarter, and the game never got any closer than five points the rest of the way.
"Sam carried us through that moment, got us buckets, and then everyone else contributed" South head coach Gabe Michael said following the game.
"It's tough to get going in your first game. We were constantly chasing them , down two, down three, down four, and then Jordan (Buell) banks that three...we were Buff State fired up at that point and I just had to let them go".
As I eluded to in the opening up top, South has a go-to player, and it should be obvious that player is Castronova. But I also made mention of a floor leader who steadies the ship. That player is freshman Greg Dolan, who in his first varsity action and playing in front of the type of crowd he's only ever been a spectator in, was the most composed player on the floor.
"He's our floor general. We're throwing him to the wolves and that's what he wants" Michael said. "This is what he's been working for since he was in fourth/fifth grade. He's sick of hearing how good he is, he wants to prove it and he's motivated to do that".
After the performance he turned in last night, he doesn't need to prove anything. He scored 16 points, impressive on its own, but hardly indicative of his impact on the game. He showed outstanding body control, the ability to defend well, and was a great facilitator.
Castronova turned in a game-high 26 points on the evening amd Matt Foster added 10 points.
Lambert had a game-high 24 points for North, who also got 16 points from Maceo Jack, with Chad Steinwachs chipping in 10 points.
Talking with Tapestry Charter head coach Darren Kresge following his team's victory last night, he referred to a four-year plan. Kresge is entering his third season as the varsity's head man, after a season as the programs JV coach. Many of the players on his roster have been with him all the way through and he's had a chance to work with them, teach them, and mentor them. While trials and tribulations along the way with a group of young men is certain, the reward of seeing growth and improvement that results from years of consistent effort is invigorating. The statisfation that spilled out of Kresge in the moments following the game said it all. His team is rewarding him by buying in.
In the first of two meetings between the favorites to win this season's Charter Cup, Tapestry came away with an 87-74 win over visiting Health Sciences. The victory improves the Thunderhawks to 3-1 on the season, while the defending Cup champions slip to 2-2.
The talent in the two programs are near mirror images of each other. Both feature highly athletic squads with a good mix of shooters, slashers, and players who can hold their own inside. For the first 11 minutes of the game, the two stood toe-to-toe and went at it. There were nine lead changes and six ties that took the game inside of five minutes remaining in the first half with Tapestry leading, 23-22.
Midway through the second quarter, DeJuan Owens drew a foul for Tapestry, after which, Health Sciences was whistled for a technical foul. That sent Owens to the line, where he quickly and calmly stroked four staright charity tosses without catching rim once. It spurred a 22-6 finish to the half for the Thunderhawks, who ran off to the locker room leading 45-28, after blowing an intense contest wide open.
Health Sciences had played without one of its standouts, Kam Rashada, in the first half, but was in the lineup for the Falcons when they took the court in the third quarter. His impact, along with a refocused energy from his teammates, was palpable, and soon overtook the game. Halfway through the third quarter, trailing by 19 points, Health Sciences errupted for a 15-2 finish to the stanza that made ot 55-49 in favor of Tapestry, but all the game's momentum was on the side of the Falcons.
Early in the fourth quarter, Health Sciences freshman Tyrin Lott drilled a trey, and it was followed by a basket from Rahsada. Those two scores had the Falcons on the verge of coming all the way back, trailing Tapestry, 60-58. At this point, the atmosphere inside the Thunderdome was electric, and the game seemed to be reaching a critical point.
Just like in the first half when the teams were separated by just on possession on the scoreboard, a technical foul call on Health Sciences completely changed the face of the game. Once again, Owens went to the line, this time sinking three of four attempts. What followed was a 21-2 run by Tapestry that gave the Thunderhawks a 21-point advantage, their largest lead of the game.
"I really believe the third quarter is where you win games", Kresge said. "Today with Health Sciences, it's a rivalry game. They came out during the third and got a step on us. But this veteran team is learning how to respond to their setbacks and perseveretough times and be able to re-group".
"It's been a long process molding our now seniors these last four years, but you see them grow into young men and be able to handle the pressure, it's great" said Kresge.
Owens finished with a game-high 27 points for Tapestry, including going 12/14 from the charity stripe. JaQuoine Fogan added 22 points for the Thunderhawks, while Jordan Maxey scored 14 points.
Health Sciences had four different players finish with double figure scoring: Lott - 17, Carson Wiseman - 14, Malik Walker - 13, Nasir Flood - 12.