If there were those who thought two games were too few to announce it, the result of the marquee game of the Tom Keenan Memorial Classic has now made it quite safe to say: Niagara Falls is back.
The Wolverines, whose 2-0 start at home helped it earn the No. 1 ranking among large schools in Western New York, dominated the fourth quarter to turn a close game into a rout Saturday as it beat No. 4 Canisius, 77-58, in its own gym.
An estimated 600 at the Bernard J. Kennedy Fieldhouse watched Niagara Falls finish with a 28-12 fourth quarter as it put five players in double figures. The performance continued a great start for a Falls, which has made six trips to the state final four in Glens Falls in the program's decade of existence but last year failed for the first time to advance to the sectional semifinals at Buffalo State.
"I just really think fatigue set in on them -- we talk all the time about playing the style that Niagara Falls has always played: just guarding, guarding, guarding," said coach Sal Constantino, in his first season after replacing Giulio Colangelo. "I think tonight it showed as the game wore on, we kind of wore them down."
Falls excelled defensively and was particularly strong inside on both ends. Six-foot-3 senior Jordan Street had 16 points and 13 rebounds, 6-3 senior Marcus Feagin had 17 and 11 and 6-3 sophomore reserve Jermaine Crumpton had 16 and six. Five-foot-9 sophomore Ja'leo Wilkins had 16 points while 5-10 junior Taijay Williams 12.
"We know who we are. We're very confident in who we are," said Constantino. "I think people said, 'Well, they beat two decent teams, and they beat them in their own place.' Now we've showed we can go into a hostile environment and play a really good team and still come out on top. I'm really proud of our guys."
Falls' lead was just 49-46 after three quarters, with the advantage coming courtesy of a halfcourt buzzer-beating runner by Feagin. Thanks in part to two follow-baskets by Street, the Wolverines steadily pushed their lead to 57-50, prompting a Canisius timeout with less than six minutes to play.
After a steal-and-layup by Canisius standout senior 5-10 guard Aaron Nevins cut the lead to five, Falls went on an 11-0 run to take a 68-52 lead with 3:40 left. The burst included four fast-break baskets that started with rebounds, included fine assists and one -- by Crumpton -- turned into a three-point play.
"To be honest with you, [the lead] was eight, and the next time I knew, I turned up and it was 19," said Constantino. "It really turned that quickly."
Nevins had 25 points while 6-5 senior Gordon Lyons had 14 for Canisius (3-2).
"They're athletic and they're tough -- that's probably their best attribute," Canisius coach Kyle Husband said of Falls. "They just kept coming and we didn't have an answer."
The two-day event, named after the former Canisius coach, featured top out-of-town teams and was dominated by them. Canisius (3-2), which defeated Rochester's McQuaid on Friday night, was the only Western New York team to win in the five games which pitted local squads against visitors.
In the game just before Falls-Canisius, Rochester's Aquinas routed St. Joe's, 81-58. Falls came back to beat Aquinas, 47-44, a week ago Saturday in the Wolverines' second win at its season-opening Cataract Classic. Falls (4-0) started with a 62-54 victory over defending Section VI Class AA champion Jamestown. The Wolverines opened their Niagara Frontier League schedule Friday by crushing Grand Island, 94-38.
For video highlights and interviews as well as more details from the game, go to the Prep Talk blog at buffalonews.com/highschool.