There was a intense, close battle going on Thursday night between one of the best large schools and one of the best small schools in Western New York. That was, until St. Joe's did what it does best, and Andrew Passage did what he does best.
Passage hit two key three-pointers during a 16-0 run split evenly between the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth as St. Joe's ran away from Nichols, 60-44, in a Monsignor Martin Association game before a standing-room-only crowd at Nichols' Gerard Gym.
"We knew if we didn't get something going right away in the fourth quarter, the game could have come right down to the end," said Passage, a 5-foot-10 senior who scored 20 points and hit four three-pointers. "We knew we needed to get on a run to set the tone for the fourth quarter and that's all we did."
Passage, who had 10 of his points in the fourth quarter, made it a 52-34 lead for St. Joe's (14-1 overall, 2-0 league) on his last three-pointer.
"I think maybe at the end we wore them down," said St. Joe's coach Mark Simon. "To their credit they hung with us. We struggled offensively. We didn't get the ball inside enough and we didn't get to the foul line. Thank God for Passage."
No. 2 large school St. Joe's had just a 36-34 lead with 3:12 left in the third quarter. But St. Joe's used its famed pressure defense and transition to close the third quarter with an 8-0 run and take a 44-34 lead to the fourth.
Senior John Greer (12 points) scored on a fast break on a pass from senior point guard Domonic Cook (16 points, seven assists), senior Mike Battle (12 rebounds) had two free throws and a put-back and Cook ended the quarter with a great fast-break drive.
St. Joe's kept going with an 8-0 run to start the fourth quarter that included Passage's two threes.
"As hard as they played and to have Andrew drill those shots, it's got to take the momentum away," said Simon, whose Marauders play at Canisius at 3 p.m. Sunday. "He's had the ability to pull us up when things have been tough."
Nichols senior Tom Ruffino (11 of his 15 points in the first half) and junior James Regan (two three-pointers) kept the No. 4 small school Vikings (13-2, 2-1) in the game before halftime. Ultra-quick 5-6 freshman Ronald Canestro (eight points) helped buoy Nichols in the third, as he came off the bench to make two steals and cause another turnover at the top of the Vikings' zone.