Man did I hit the jackpot last night. I was really looking forward to the MMA small school battle between ranked small schools, Nichols and St. Mary's at 7:30 pm. I decided to check on any games starting early to try and squeeze in a double-header. I found no Yale Cup games were scheduled, and just before making dinner plans, I noticed Oracle Charter was at McKinley at 5:30 pm. Perfect I thought. McKinley and Nichols are only a mile apart. The only problem was the Macks were coming off a loss to Canisius and Oracle's toughest opponent was Clarence who routed them, the same Clarence team McKinley had unloaded on. I didn't have super high expectations for the game, but decided to go anyway. I tweeted that the game of the week was St. Mary's at Nichols, and made no mention of the game I was attending prior. Turns out, my game of the week wasn't even the game of the night.
Oracle Charter went into Mack High on Friday night and scored the most staggering upset of the 2013 basketball season, defeating the defending Class A1 and Yale Cup champions, 80-75. McKinley entered the game as the sixth-ranked large school in WNY, while The Phoenix, a Class C1 small school, has never been ranked in their four-year existence.
It was obvious right from the opening tip that it was going to be a fun and competitive game, and as the minutes wore on, the action just kept getting better and better. I dubbed it last night, without hesitation, the best game I've attended this season. The Phoenix brought a ton of fans and filled their side of the bleachers next to the McKinley fans, who always represent their team well. Both sides were rowdy and raucous all night. The game had 12 ties, 25 lead changes, dunks, big shots, and big swats.
Late in the third quarter, the Macks' Lovell Smith threw down on a breakaway to tie the game at 46 apiece. Oracle would score the final five points of the quarter and then the opening bucket of the fourth quarter to take the largest lead either team had in the game, 53-46. The Macks quickly responded with a 19-7 run over the next three minutes, sparked by Smith, Reyjzon Jordan, Daequan Warren, and Marcus Morris. With just 3:30 remaining in the game, McKinley was up 65-60.
My thinking at this point was that experience was about to win out. The Macks have been in this position repeatedly over the years, even just during this season. They play in the Yale Cup and scheduled multiple ranked large schools for nonleaguers, including the top three MMA schools. Oracle Charter on the other hand, had never been near a situation like this. They entered the game 13-1 and the closest game all season was an eight-point win at City Honors. Surely the battle-tested Macks were about to take over in the final minutes and the inexperience of The Phoenix would be their undoing. My thinking was wrong.
Oracle Charter stared down its largest deficit of the evening and then conquered it. Leon Johnson came off the bench to score four points just 15 ticks apart to pull his team within a point. A McKinley bucket from Smith put the Macks back up by three, 67-64, and that's when the fireworks began.
Jamarr Cunningham pulled up from long-range and went glass from downtown on the left side to tie the game. He then turned and held a pose for the crowd. After a McKinley free throw, Eric Waters hit another '3' for The Phoenix to put them up, 70-68. After two more charity tosses by the Macks, Cunningham did it again. From the same spot, off the glass, another 3-pointer less than a minute after the prior one, and another pose for the crowd, which was coming unglued. Oracle now led, 73-70.
After seeing its deficit increase to 75-70, McKinley got a basket from Morris, forced a turnover, and then got its own long range bust from Jordan to tie the game, 75-75, with 61 seconds remaining. However, in the final minute, the Macks were unable to get a shot to fall, while Oracle Charter managed three free throws and a layup to secure its biggest win in program history.
Cunningham scored 11 of his 17 points in the final stanza for Oracle Charter. Waters and Gerald Bibbs shared team-high honors with 18 points each, while Julius Allen finished with 13 points and did an excellent job running the point.
Morris had a game-high 24 points for McKinley, while Smith scored 18 points, Jordan netted 12 points, and Warren added 10 points in the loss.
Despite its 13-1 record, I've never cast a poll vote for Oracle Charter. My reason was due to the competition they had faced. I did watch them defeat North Tonawanda at the start of the season and thought they were a very good team. At the time, I didn't realize just how well NT would continue to play all season (currently tied for second in the NFL). Also, they had lost handily to Clarence, a team Fredonia took to overtime on the road. My logic was that Fredonia deserved a vote before The Phoenix did. Now, we can throw all that logic out the window. Oracle Charter doesn't just deserve a vote, they deserve a high vote. The Phoenix is talented, balanced, athletic, well coached, and they even defend. That's bad news for the rest of the teams in Class C. Oracle Charter will most certainly be heard from in the sectionals this year, and they appear to be on a collision course for a C1 final date with Middle College at JCC on Friday, March 1st.