Sometimes for his team to play its best, McKinley coach Zaire Dorsey has to spell it out.
"We had specific goals on the chalk board: 'play like a champion, play McKinley Mack basketball, crash the offensive and defensive boards, share the ball and move the ball,' " said Dorsey.
The Macks took Dorsey's words to heart on Wednesday as they pulled out a 58-53 win over Hutch-Tech in the Section VI Class A-1 semifinals at Buffalo State.
No. 3 Williamsville East beat No. 2 Williamsville South, 46-38, in the other semifinal. South was the two-time defending Class A-1 champ. McKinley (18-2) will face East (15-4) for the Class A-1 title at 6:30 p.m. Saturday back at Buffalo State. McKinley's last title was in 2008-2009.
The single-digit wins for the Macks continued over their Yale Cup foes. In their previous two meetings, the Macks won by six and one point. This one played out in the same fashion. "We wanted to apply pressure by trapping out of our zone any time the ball was on the sidelines," said Dorsey. "Coach [Dave] Rappl's teams never quit."
The No. 1 seeded Macks forced 17 turnovers and held Tech to 19 points in the second half. The effort helped them overcome 10-of-28 shooting from the free-throw line and getting outscored, 24-10, in the second quarter.
McKinley led, 13-4, early in the first quarter, with Lovell Smith contributing eight points. Hutch-Tech started the game sluggishly as it gave up layups and got beat down the floor.
What looked as if it could be an easy night for McKinley took a decided turn in the second quarter. Tech found its stroke and was 8 of 16 from the floor in the quarter while the Macks shot just 5 of 18.
After playing catch-up the whole game, Tech took its first lead at 21-20 on a putback by sophomore Roman West with 4:05 left in the half. The first half ended with Tech grabbing the momentum and a 34-27 lead.
As good as Tech looked in the second quarter, it looked just as bad in the third. It was outscored, 16-3, shot just 1 of 13 from the floor and was held scoreless for the last 3:18. Meanwhile, McKinley made 7 of 15 shots and got its running game going.
"That's what they want to do, they want to speed you up, they want you to dribble so they can get tips," Rappl said. "They're very good. They're the top seed for a reason because they play hard as hell. So we talked to our kids, it was about rebounds and 50-50 balls. I think we put the ball on the floor a little too much."
McKinley had four players in double figures, led by Smith's 14.
No. 5 seed Hutch-Tech (14-7) got 11 points and nine rebounds from West. Tim Whitehead and Denzel Washington added 10 each. Tech got within three points with 2 minutes left in the game, but couldn't hit the big threes when it needed them.
"It was a really hard-fought game," added Rappl. "We got a little tentative when they went with the odd front. We went to split it, and then we stopped attacking. That's a very good team."
South came into the postseason riding the momentum of its ECIC II-title splitting victory at Williamsville East on the final day of the regular season. But this one belonged to the Flames.
Connor Keenan had 11 points and 16 rebounds and Michael Kyarunts and Cort Williams added 10 points each.
"We had a real good week of practice, they played South tough," said East coach Mike Trzybinski. "We've had this group since they were sophomores when they lost their first 10 games. This is just a tribute to how hard they work. I think they were poised, they listened. It's their heart and their desire. They want to win it."
South coach Al Monaco wasn't just disappointed with his team's performance, he was embarrassed.
"For the game we had one assist, that's how selfish we played and how we just played all one-on-one basketball. It was embarrassing offensively. We held them to 46 points so we played good defense, but when you play all selfish one-on-one basketball like that it's just unacceptable."