Most of WNY's top local teams saw their season's slip away when they were unable to retain a lead. Olean had a 12-point lead late in the third quarter against Batavia in the Far West regional and ended up losing. Silver Creek was up by seven points with three and a half minutes left in the fourth quarter of the Class C state semifinal, only to see things unravel late and have its season end. Canisius took a four-point lead into the fourth quarter of the CHSAA state title game, only to fall by six at the end. Even Jamestown was up by a point at intermission during the regionals against eventual Class AA state champ Bishop Kearney. So when McKinley's nine-point fourth quarter lead evaporated in just over two minutes and they were suddenly trailing a team with all the momentum by three points with under 30 seconds left in the game, I'll admit I felt the sensation of "here we go again".
But like McKinley's motto goes, "Macks show no fear". After a courageous and spectacular finish, those same Macks are state champions.
Lovell Smith scored 24 points, had eight rebounds, three assists, two blocks and two steals to earn championship MVP honors, as McKinley defeated Burke Catholic in overtime, 76-73, to win the NYSPHAA Class A state title. It was the first state championship in school history and also the first Section VI school to win it all in Class A since the AA classification was added.
Trailing 60-57 after Burke Catholic dropped what looked like a dagger 3-pointer with 50 seconds left in regulation, Marcus Morris calmly answered with his own long-range bust, tying the game at 60 with 25 seconds to go. After Burke Catholic regained a lead of 62-60 following a pair of free throws with 14 seconds on the gane clock, McKinley came down the court with its season hanging in the balance. Samuel Smith took a pass inside and got a defender off his feet, drawing a two-shot foul with just 5.8 showing on the clock. Smith delivered the first, nothing but net, and timeout was called. In the most pressure-packed circumstance you could dream up, Smith strolled out of the timeout, up to the line, and dropped the second charity toss in the net just as perfectly as the first had fallen, tying the game at 62. Burke Catholic was unable to get off anything more than a heave in desperation, and the Class A state championship headed to OT.
McKinley fell behind by three points in the extra session and didn't score until 2:20 remained, when Daequan Warren hit a pair of free throws, sparking a 9-3 Macks run over the next minute and a half, erasing the three-point OT deficit and taking the lead on Burke Catholic at 71-68. The run included baskets from Morris, Samuel Smith, and Lovell Smith, along with a free throw from Morris. Over the final 37 seconds, Burke Catholic scored a pair of field goals, each time pulling within a point, but both times the Macks responded by sinking a pair from the charity stripe to maintain their advantage, first from Jordan and then Johnson. Trailing 75-72 with 2.6 seconds left in OT, Burke Catholic sank a free throw, but missed its second attempt. The rebound was snagged by Lovell Smith, who was fouled with 0.7 to go. Smith hit one free throw, bringing the game to its final score, 76-73.
The Macks trailed early, 5-0, and didn't get on the scoreboard until Marcus Morris swished his first 3-pointer with 4:27 left in the opening quarter. Burke Catholic led 13-11 after the first quarter and built another five-point lead midway through the second quarter. Lovell Smith scored six straight points in response to the deficit and Stephen Johnson collected four points in the final minute of the half, as Burke Catholic held a 26-25 lead at halftime.
McKinley used a pair of third quarter runs (10-1 and 10-3) to build leads of six and nine points, and outscored Burke Catholic, 22-15 in the stanza. The Macks held a 47-41 advantage heading into the fourth quarter, after getting scoring from six different players in the third. By the 4:41 mark of the fourth quarter, McKinley had matched its largest lead of the game at nine points, 57-48. The Macks wouldn't score another basket until Morris knocked down his game-tying '3' with just 25 seconds left in regulation. During the Macks scoreless stretch, Burke Catholic mounted a comeback, scoring 12 straight points over a 3:45 span to take a three-point lead with under a minute left in the fourth quarter.
Morris was named to the all-tournament team, finishing the title game with 16 points and seven boards. Jordan scored 11 points, Samuel Smith finished with 10 points, and Johnson added nine points. Warren scored six points, collected eight rebounds, and also had two assists, two steals, and two blocks.