BATAVIA – A low-scoring game perhaps offered Niagara Falls its best chance at springing a surprise on Fairport.
For more than 11 minutes, the Wolverines succeeded in their objective to shackle the Section V champions.
But high school basketball is a 32-minute game. A window in which Niagara Falls got away from what it had been doing well provided the opening the Red Raiders needed to break free from their bonds and steam roll the Section VI champions during their Far West Regional Class AA clash.
Fairport is heading to the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association semifinals for the first time since 2007. It earned the right to battle for the state championship at Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena in Binghamton by taking a 63-32 decision before an estimated 1,000 at Genesee Community College.
With Falls leading 16-13 with just over 4 minutes left in the second quarter, the Red Raiders scored eight points in 43 seconds – sparking a run in which they outscored the Wolverines 34-7 in just over 12 minutes.
Fairport led 29-18 at halftime and extended it to 47-23 through three quarters as its size, athleticism and defensive tenacity – along with some poor shooting by the Wolverines (9 for 43 from the floor) enabled the state's third-ranked team, but highest NYSPHSAA member in the poll – to win going away and earn congratulatory applause from its fans who lingered with the team afterwards to savor the moment.
It's a moment Niagara Falls had hoped to experience in its second straight regional appearance but much like last season when the Wolverines lost to eventual state champion Aquinas they were overmatched.
Three players scored in double-figures for Fairport with Dan Masino scoring 16 and adding four assists and three steals. Ryan Algier had 13 points and eight rebounds as the Red Raiders (22-1) shot 50 percent from the floor and held a 40-24 rebounding edge.
Senior Charles Lamar led Niagara Falls (15-9) with 13 points.
A Wolverines crew that relies on overcoming its size disadvantage by forcing turnovers only forced 11 of them, roughly 10 below its season average, while giving the ball away 15 times.
"Unfortunately we kept it low scoring on our side," Falls coach Sal Constantino said. "We struggled to score. As we struggled to score we lost our defensive energy. … I think guys started to feel it was insurmountable."
That's a total 180-degree turn from the beginning of this clash.
The teams exchanged leads eight times during an entertaining first quarter and 10 times through the opening 11 minutes, 44 seconds. Falls took what turned out to be its final lead on a pair of Charles Lamar free throws and then a steal by Syquan Ralands that led to a two-on-one break that Ralands finished off a feed from Jamel Burton.
Upset hopes turned sour seconds later. Algier turned an offensive rebound into two free throws with 3:56 left in the half to trim the lead to 16-15. Thirteen seconds later after a steal, Matt Muncey drained a three that gave Fairport the lead for good. A Masino trey 30 seconds later prompted the Wolverines to take a timeout.
It did little to quell the Red Raiders' momentum as they drew two charges and scored eight of the final 10 points of the half with Algier scoring four of them.
Algier, Cam Keeley (12 points) and Masino took turns thwarting potential Falls rallies in the third quarter by combining for 16 points with Keeley nailing two three-pointers. Masino's three-point play off a steal late in the quarter gave the Red Raiders a 47-23 lead heading into the final quarter.
"I thought we had moments where we just got very selfish," said Constantino, whose team beat Section V Class AA runner-up University Prep which dropped a three-point decision in the final to Fairport. "We hadn't been all year. … I thought we took some bad shots. One guy takes a bad shot and then another guy takes a bad shot and they you're overwhelmed."
Falls let its five seniors finish out the final seconds in this one. It was Constantino's way of thanking them for helping the program return to the top of the Class AA mountain in Section VI after Jamestown had won three straight titles from 2013-15.
"They've shown that everybody is a big part of what we do," Constantino said. "It was their moment. I just told those guys they are exactly what I want this program to be known for, not just on the court. They work hard in the classroom. They're very respectful kids. They're a lot of what we want Niagara Falls basketball to be known as."