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Nichols, Canisius will meet for the Cup

The stage is set for one of the biggest nights of the boys basketball season, and there’s an excellent storyline involving the Manhattan Cup final.

Nichols, however, certainly wasn’t interested in discussing it.

The Vikings used a late 10-0 fourth-quarter run to beat Bishop Timon-St. Jude, 66-61, during the Monsignor Martin Association’s semifinal quadrupleheader at Canisius College on Sunday afternoon.

The win earned Nichols a return trip to the Koessler Athletic Center on Wednesday night for the 8:45 p.m. Manhattan Cup championship against Canisius. Nichols knocked off Canisius, 57-50, in last year’s semifinals in what was one of the greatest upsets in Western New York boys basketball postseason history.

Canisius (20-5) is ranked No. 1 in the large school poll, as it was last year. Canisius beat No. 7 Nichols (16-9) during the regular season, as it did last year. Nichols is led by its talented tandem of 6-foot-6 Chris Miner and 6-8 Cam Lewis, as it was last year.

“Last year was last year,” said Miner, who had 24 points against Timon. “We are obviously hoping for the same result, but we have a different squad – not too many guys know what it was like to win that game.”

“They’re a great team and they’re doing unbelievable things over there with how they play together and score,” Lewis (17 points) said of Canisius. “We have a big challenge ahead of us.”

“The long and short of it is, last year was a different group,” Nichols coach John Reinholz said. “We really only have two returning players, because Tanner Schmit was hurt. Everybody knows that Canisius is the class of Western New York basketball. They’re phenomenal. They’ve proved it all year long. We approach that game knowing it’s going to be the toughest challenge we’ll face all year.”

The team sure wasn’t going there, but that won’t stop local basketball fans from wondering if Nichols can pull off the upset again against Canisius, which looked very much the part of the area’s top team Sunday. The Crusaders were too much for rival St. Joe’s in a 69-43 victory in which 6-7 junior forward Stafford Trueheart had 21 points.

Wednesday’s doubleheader will feature some of the area’s very best teams and players. It will start at 7 p.m. with the Class B championship game, in which News No. 1 small school Park (18-3) will face No. 3 St. Mary’s (16-9) after both teams came up with game-winning fourth quarters Sunday to advance.

Takal Molson had 31 points, including the biggest basket of the game as St. Mary’s closed out Archbishop Walsh with a 9-0 game-ending run for a 59-49 victory. In Sunday’s opening game, Park prevailed over pesky Niagara Catholic, 57-49.

This season, the Monsignor Martin Association altered its postseason into two separate Class A and B brackets; in the past, all schools competed for the Manhattan Cup.

The Manhattan Cup winner, as it always has, will advance to the Class A bracket of the New York State Catholic High School Athletic Association playoffs; it will play the Long Island representative in the semifinals Sunday afternoon at Niagara University. The Class B winner will advance to the NYSCHSAA finals on March 15.

Nichols, historically a Class B (small) school, was placed in Class A this season for competitive purposes. The Vikings had some bumps during the regular season, including a sweep by Canisius (74-36 and 57-50) and a split with Timon, but Miner and some excellent late foul-shooting (12 of 15 in the fourth quarter) helped lead Nichols to a fine finish in Sunday’s finale.

In a game befitting the second and third seeds (and Nos. 7 and 8 in the News poll), Nichols had a 52-48 lead entering the fourth quarter, but Timon twice took the lead, the final time on a three-pointer by sophomore William Lamar that put the Tigers (13-12) up, 58-56, with just over three minutes to play.

Nichols then held Timon scoreless until a meaningless buzzer-beating three, while they converted at the line. Miner then went 5 of 6 while freshman Marcellus Cooper had a big 2-for-2 trip with 2:08 left. Nichols sophomore guard Will Johnson added 10 (eight in the third quarter, including two threes) while Timon was led by sophomore guard Joe Harrison (16 points).

St. Joe’s trailed by double digits for most of the game (36-22 at half and 47-35 after three) but gave its raucous “Rowdies” student section reason to roar when it came within eight in the third quarter, largely behind juniors Grant Beyer and Nicholas Motley (both with 11 points).

However, Canisius took control of the game with a 9-2 run to start the fourth, and soon after Trueheart delivered his second two-handed jam of the game off a nice drop-off by junior Justin Jones (14 points). Senior LaTerrance Reed (who set up an alley-oop jam by Trueheart in the first half) had 12 points for Canisius.

“I was really proud of our guys with how they answered late in the third and early in the fourth,” said Canisius coach Kyle Husband.

St. Mary’s led Walsh for much of the afternoon, including 28-19 at half and 36-44 after three quarters, but the Eagles rallied in the fourth. Walsh started the final quarter with a 13-6 run, punctuated by a three-point play by sophomore Tavien Kemp to pull within one (50-49), but that was answered coolly by Molson’s jumper that pushed the lead to three and started the game-ending run.

Park got 26 points from Jordan Nwora as it fended off a Niagara Catholic team that trailed only by eight entering the fourth and pulled to within six (53-47) after Jaceary Menes (13 points) hit a three with less than two minutes to go.

Park’s wins over St. Mary’s were by 81-54 and 73-62 this year.

“We know what they do,” said Molson. “It’s hard to beat a team three times, and we don’t plan on that happening.”