BINGHAMTON – East didn't need to rely on another strong fourth quarter to pull out a victory Friday morning. The Panthers had victory in hand long before the start of the final period of the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association Class D boys basketball semifinal.
OK. East pretty much had the triumph wrapped up by halftime as the clash at Floyd L. Maines Arena between the state's second- and fourth-ranked teams proved even more of a mismatch than a University at Buffalo versus Arizona Wildcats NCAA Tournament game.
The second-ranked Panthers are one win away from a champion's coronation.
They secured the right to compete for the state title by crushing Section X champion Harrisville, 78-48, before an estimated 800 – a fan base that included Section VI Class B champion Health Sciences in attendance hours before the start of its state semifinal contest.
East's defense and shooting overwhelmed a Pirates team making its second straight state Final Four appearance. The Panthers (19-6) made 5five of their seven first-half 3-pointers during a 27-11 first quarter. For the game, they shot a scintillating 59.2 percent and made 13 of 22 from beyond the arc while holding the Pirates to 17-of-54 shooting (31.5 percent).
East faces unbeaten defending state champion VII-Moriah (25-0) for the championship at 5 p.m. Saturday. Moriah held off IV-Newfield 65-59 in the other semifinal Friday.
"It means everything (to play for the title)," said Panthers senior Willard Anderson, who scored a game-high 26 points. "It's the best thing that's happened to me in four years to play for the championship."
"They came out shooting the lights out," added winning coach Starling Bryant. "I was impressed, even by my standards. They were up for the moment and I'm proud of them."
It looks like those 7:30 a.m. practices earlier this week paid off.
Slated in the 9:30 a.m. tournament-opening time slot Friday, East looked sharp and energized from the start in its first state Final Four appearance since 2008.
East scored 15 of the game's first 17 points with Jahahd Maryon, Anderson and Justin Allen each hitting 3-pointers during the blitz. Anderson finished with eight points in the first quarter, while sophomore Danny Carter had six.
The Panthers led, 50-23, at halftime. They knew they had a chance to be up by more once the third quarter started because Harrisville coach Brian Coloney earned a technical foul after voicing his displeasure with the officials while walking off the court.
East, which led by as much as 42, carried a 71-33 lead into the fourth quarter. The Panthers played most of the second half content on just draining time off the clock -- which isn't easy considering they like to run and push the pace.
Anderson shot 9 for 17 from the floor, while senior classmate Allen added 14 points and 11 rebounds. Waunya Shaw had 14 points, Carter 12 and Maryon 11.
Peyton Schmitt had 18 points for Harrisville (22-4).
East is in Class D because the Buffalo Public Schools plans to phase it out and re-brand it as a community school. No matter the classification, it will have its hands full with a Moriah. The Vikings have not lost since Dec. 16, 2016, and are riding a 45-game winning streak.
That said, Bryant and his coaching staff aren't strangers to preparing teams for the NYSPHSAA grand stage.
"Everyone came to play today but we have a big game Saturday," said Bryant, who guided Buffalo Traditional to three state championships and Federation crown during the mid to late 1990s. "We (as coaches) rode this rodeo before so we knew what to expect and we know how to get the kids ready."