BINGHAMTON – Things did not go according to plan for Health Sciences.
The strategy was to defend well and score the basketball throughout the weekend so that it would return to Buffalo with a New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association championship in its possession.
Instead, the Falcons boarded the bus earlier than they had hoped as Canton's motion offense and penchant for earning open layups grounded their quest in a Class B boys semifinal contest.
Health Sciences dropped a 67-55 decision to the Section X champions Friday night at Floyd L. Maines Memorial Arena. An estimated crowd of more than 1,500 watched the Golden Bears take a 27-21 halftime lead, fall behind briefly and then take the lead for good with 5 minutes, 1 seconds left in the third quarter on a three-point play from 6-foot-6 sophomore sensation Declan Porter.
Porter scored a game-high 27 points as he scored inside and from beyond the arc in leading Canton to victory in this matchup between first-time state final four participants.
The Golden Bears (23-5) will face either III-Westhill or XI-Center Moriches for the title at 9 p.m. Saturday.
That could've been Health Sciences (21-5), but the Falcons' defense broke down at the worst possible moments. That's a big reason the quest to become the first Western New York charter school to win a state basketball title came up short.
"To make it this far to lose, that wasn't the plan," said Falcons junior Davonte Gaines, who finished with 24 points, 10 rebounds, four blocks, three assists and three steals.
"We didn't play our best basketball today," Health Sciences coach Ty Parker said. "Sometimes it doesn't happen the way you think it's going to happen. … The better team won tonight."
The Falcons started as if they were going to be the superior team Friday with Gaines leading the charge. They opened with a 7-3 run as five quick points by Gaines, including a three-pointer, gave the first-time Section VI champions the upper hand.
The Golden Bears tied it quickly on three-pointers from Porter and Andy Downs. The treys were part of a 13-2 run that enabled Canton to take control as it followed up success from downtown by getting to the basket for layups either via penetration and transition.
The Golden Bears led by as much as 10 early in the second quarter, but the Falcons mounted a mini charge as four points from Josiah Haygood trimmed the deficit to four points but after a miss in transition, Tommy Bortnick got lost behind the defense for an easy layup.
Health Sciences' offense began to find its groove in the third quarter, scoring eight straight points to take the lead on a three-point play by Gaines. After Porter tied it with a short jumper, Gaines hit a three-pointer to give the Falcons a 32-29 lead and seemingly the momentum to go on a potential game-controlling run.
That's the last time Health Sciences led as Porter (eight rebounds, five assists) followed with a three-pointer and his three-point play with 5:01 left in the third gave the Golden Bears the lead for good. That layup was one of nine during the final 13 minutes for a Canton crew that loves to run.
"Studying them on film we knew transition offense was going to be key in this game," Canton coach Troy Lassial said. "Our goal was make or miss … we were going to try to get a basket within seven seconds. That's been our plan all year. … The goal is to get a layup. It happened often tonight. I'm just glad we made the layups."
"We just didn't execute the way we were supposed to on defense," said Parker, noting his team needed to do a better job fighting through screens.
All season long, Parker has said losses are an opportunity to learn from mistakes to aid in becoming better down the road. With the Falcons only graduating one senior, Friday's loss is another one that could provide lessons that could be beneficial down the road.
"We're happy for the experience," Parker said. "I have a young team. We're going to get back to it. We're going to work hard so we can get back to this beautiful place and bring home a championship."