With roughly 35 seconds left in the third quarter, Niagara Falls’ Charles Lamar drove baseline for an unimpeded two-handed jam.
It’s the type of dunk that normally would’ve blown the roof off a buzzing Buffalo State Sports Arena during the Far West Regionals, especially in a close game.
It didn’t because the boys basketball team most of the estimated 2,000 fans in attendance came to see was pretty much out of it at that point. The players weren’t into it either as all the basket did was trim the Wolverines’ 29-point deficit to 27. They received no special jolt of energy from the hoop because they too knew there was no way an Aquinas crew featuring seven returnees from last year’s state semifinalist squad was going to let that big of a lead slip away.
The Little Irish didn’t. Niagara Falls’ season came to an end Saturday night as Aquinas, the fourth-ranked team in the state, rolled to a 65-42 victory in the Class AA contest.
The win prevented Section V’s champions from being shut out in the regional round for the first time since the state adopted the five classification system in basketball.
The wins by the other Section VI champions (Williamsville South, Olean, Middle Early College and Panama) on Saturday means the area will send four teams to Glens Falls to the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association semifinals for the second time in the last three seasons and fourth time overall since 2004.
Falls isn’t among the traveling party because Aquinas’ speed and height proved too much for the Wolverines to handle. The Little Irish led 18-7 after the first quarter and 38-13 at halftime. Aquinas shot a sizzling 14 for 24 in the first half, including 5 for 10 from beyond the arc, while the Wolverines shot just 20.8 percent from the floor.
To put it in perspective, Aquinas had more points in the first quarter than Falls had field goals (16) for the game. The Wolverines came in yielding around 41 points during the postseason.
”What could go wrong did go wrong,” Wolverines coach Sal Constantino said. “At the end we didn’t want to quit. The final score is not going to dictate our season.”
Breon Harris led the Falls with 10 points. His three-pointer 55 seconds into the game gave the Wolverines their only lead of the contest, 3-1. Jason Hawkes (20 points) and Earnest Edwards (16) combined for the next 17 Aquinas points.
The only losses the Little Irish (22-3) have endured this season have come within the boundaries of the Buffalo-Niagara region. They lost twice at reigning Federation Class A champion Canisius and once to highly ranked Canadian school Vaughn (Ont.) at a tournament in Niagara Falls last month.
The loss puts a damper on a season in which Niagara Falls (18-6) returned to the top spot in Class AA in the section after relinquishing it since its last regional appearance in 2012. The Wolverines have had only one bad season in that stretch and still made the sectional final for the fourth time in five seasons.
Constantino believes his program has staying power, as the Wolverines only lose second-leading scorer Harris and Daquan Hubard to graduation.
“I’m not a cocky guy but I’d be very surprised if we’re not here next year,” Constantino said. “We certainly bring back enough but as I said to the underclassmen, we’ve got to get better.”