Coming into the Manhattan Cup semifinals, the thought was that the matchup of St. Mary’s and Bishop Timon-St. Jude was going to be a great one.
It was. It went to overtime.
But it was, by far, the second-best game of the night.
In one of the greatest upsets in recent Western New York basketball history, Nichols knocked off Canisius, 57-50, in a stunning contest in which the No. 5 small school knocked off the No. 1 large school.
It was just the third loss this year for the Crusaders (24-3), who had been undefeated against Western New York competition, including a win over Nichols (62-49 on Jan. 25) in the Monsignor Martin Association.
Nichols (18-8) will meet Bishop Timon-St. Jude (15-11) – which beat St. Mary’s, 65-61, in overtime – for the Manhattan Cup at 6:30 p.m. Sunday at Canisius College’s Koessler Athletic Center.
As the top seed, Canisius hosted the semifinal doubleheader, and early on there were signs of a classic upset. Canisius had easy shots that weren’t going down, while Nichols was playing beautiful basketball.
“A lot of people have their eyes open, jaws dropped, but everybody in that locker room knew we could play with that team,” said Nichols coach John Reinholz. “We played them tight in January and I think our size posed a problem for them.”
Junior Cam Lewis, a 6-foot-7 forward, led the way for the Vikings with 22 points, 10 in the first half as Nichols took an eyebrow-raising 21-20 halftime lead. Lewis was close to unguardable near the basket, adding five in a third quarter that stunningly saw Nichols take a double-digit lead before going up, 42-29, heading to the fourth quarter.
In front of an astonished home crowd, Canisius continued to struggle from the field, never really rallying back into it.
“They played harder than we did – which I always think is one of our better attributes – and they played more together than we did,” said Canisius coach Kyle Husband. “After this many months, and after as many good wins that we’ve had, obviously the disappointment is pretty high.”
Chris Miner, a 6-5 junior, had 15 points while Greg White and Tom Nuttle each had 10 for Nichols.
The winner of the Manhattan Cup goes to the state Catholic tournament in the Class A bracket. If Nichols loses the final, it will enter the state playoffs in Class B. If Nichols wins the Manhattan Cup, it will go in Class A and St. Mary’s, by virtue of it advancing the furthest in the playoffs among the other small schools, will go in Class B.
“We know that we have a tough road ahead of us,” Reinholz said of the championship game, “but like we said in the locker room: Why not us?”
Donte Williams led Timon with 28 points, including a key three-point play late in the fourth quarter that helped the Tigers come back from six points down (53-47) to St. Mary’s (19-7) with two minutes left in regulation.
Senior Kyler Hairston (14 points) hit a three to tie the game at 53 with 1:22 left. Sophomore Quinton Lamar’s layup gave Timon a 55-53 lead, but St. Mary’s forced overtime when Takal Molson hit two free throws with 2.9 seconds left.
With about a minute left in overtime, Williams answered a basket by St. Mary’s senior Tyler English (18 points) that cut the lead to one with another three-point play that gave Timon a 63-59 lead. Williams rebounded the next St. Mary’s miss and fed freshman William Lamar for a layup and a 65-59 lead.
“It’s a little overwhelming – we pulled it out,” said Williams. “Everybody came to play and hit big shots and got us back out of that hole.”