Late in the first half at St. Mary’s, the Olean bench saw the play coming before the rest of the gym did. They knew Nick Schmidt was set to lob the ball to fellow senior Wil Bathurst for an alley-oop, and they started to collectively rise out of their seats before the big play actually caused some fans in the bleachers to do the same.
Bathurst’s emphatic, two-handed jam in the final seconds of the first half was the signature play in what was an outstanding performance by the No. 1 team in The News small school poll. Top-ranked Olean dominated at No. 3 St. Mary’s, 79-51.
Senior center Sam Eckstrom had 30 points, Schmidt had six three-pointers among his 21 and Bathurst had 13 as Olean (11-2) used big second and fourth quarters to take the drama out of the matchup of two of the top three small schools.
“I was really happy with the way we came out of the gates,” said Olean coach Jeff Anastasia. “We have been coming out of the gates slow. I thought we came out with great intensity. In the first quarter we were a little slow on defense, but in the second quarter we had both ends – offense and defense going strong – I thought the kids came to play tonight.”
The Huskies went on 11-0 runs to start both the second and the fourth quarters. The first quarter was an excellent offensive display by both teams, with Olean taking a 28-21 lead. It’s run put it up 39-21 midway through the quarter.
The alley-oop dunk would be the Huskies’ last basket of a 21-7 second quarter, giving it a 49-28 lead.
“It felt great,” said the 6-foot-4 Bathurst, who will play at Cornell University next year. “I felt like it gave us a lot of intensity. The bench got into it, everyone got into it, it was a great way to end the first half.”
Senior point guard Luke Hennessey called the play, said backcourt mate Schmidt.
“In practice we work on it every day,” said Schmidt. “I just put it where it needed to be and he went up and got it – it was a great play.”
Eckstrom, the 6-7 center who will play at Division II College of St. Rose, was his consistent self with 15 points in each half. He was near unstoppable on the low block, using excellent post moves to beat defenders or scoring as the beneficiary of Olean’s typically superb ball movement.
“I just feel like we had fun again,” said Hennessey. “We got the ball in our scorer’s hands and they just scored.”
St. Mary’s (10-3) got the lead under 20 to end the third (62-44), but Olean closed the game out with a 17-7 fourth which saw the lead hit 30. Tyler English led St. Mary’s with 17 points while senior classmate Matt Wrobel had 12.
Olean, playing an independent schedule this season which has afforded it to play excellent competition, lost at Canisius in December and at Section V power Aquinas last week.
“I like the schedule a lot – I think we’ve learned a lot,” said Anastasia. “We had a tough one with Aquinas – we came out slow. We learned something from that game.”
Olean will host Williamsville South Friday. The Huskies play in Buffalo twice more this season: at 11:30 a.m. Saturday against Oracle Charter at Tapestry Charter and it plays at Bishop Timon-St. Jude on Jan. 29 at 7 p.m.
“We don’t mind losing a couple of regular season games if it teaches something about ourselves along the way,” said Bathurst. “It’s good for us.”