Canisius has played so many close games this season that it’s developed a mental toughness to not be fazed by anything, regardless of the situation. Still, even coach Kyle Husband was impressed with the way his Crusaders handled adversity in their biggest game of the season.
It is because of that toughness, togetherness and calm that Canisius now has a shot at playing in the biggest game of the season.
The Crusaders (24-5) will play in the last official Class A boys’ basketball game on the calendar in New York State on Saturday afternoon at 5 as they advanced to Federation final by taking down defending champion and previously unbeaten Scotia-Glenville, 68-63, in overtime before a mostly pro Scotia crowd at University at Albany's SEFCU Arena.
An estimated 1,000, including the Tartans’ student section, watched as Canisius scored seven points in the final 57 seconds to snap Scotia’s 53-game winning streak. Stafford Trueheart’s three-point play gave the Crusaders the lead for good, while seniors Josh Huffman and LaTerrance Reed each went 2 for 2 from the line in the closing seconds. The loss was the Tartans’ first since March 9, 2013 when they lost in regionals to Section III champion Bishop Ludden.
Canisius plays another Captial Region school for the title when it meets Alliance of Independent Schools Athletic Association champion Albany Academy. Albany Academy defeated New York City PSAL champion Springfield-Garden, 61=50
Trueheart eclipsed 1,000 career points by scoring 19 points, sharing team honors with Reed, who picked up three first-quarter fouls and didn't start impacting the game until the third quarter. Huffman had 16 points, while TJ Wheatley provided tough defense off the bench in key stretches against Scotia star Joe Cremo, who scored a game-high 28 points but only shot 6 for 18 from the floor. He will play for University at Albany next fall.
Husband said it would take a team effort to take down a team that’s won as often as Scotia (26-1). He got just that, and more drama than he could have possibly imagined. Just when it seemed Canisius pulled off the stop it would need to beat a Scotia crew playing just 20 minutes away from its Section II hometown, the unthinkable happened. Canisius committed a foul nearly length of the floor away from the basket.nThe questionable foul from the Crusaders' vantage point, opened the door for Cremo to drain two free throws needed to force overtime.
Before that, Cremo had his potential go-ahead shot swatted away and grabbed by Trueheart after his drive in the paint ran into a brick wall named Wheatley. Trueheart hit 1 of 2 free throws with 2.6 seconds left, Cremo grabbed the rebound and even though he was surrounded by Canisius players trying not to foul him managed to draw a call on Huffman just before throwing a desperation heave from near his own basket.
During the short intermission before the overtime, Husband reminded his crew it hadn't lost anything yet. Nothing had been taken away from it.
The Crusaders took those words to heart, scoring the first three points to take the lead. Scotia, the two-time New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association champion, took a 63-61 lead on a three-pointer by Cremo with 1 minute, 7 seconds left. That came after Canisius' defense blocked two shots. The Crusaders stayed with it and on their next trip down the floor, Trueheart scored on a hook shot and drew a foul he converted into a traditional three-point play.
Canisius led 17-11 after one quarter but the Tartans took advantage of Reed's absence in the second quarter and some accurate shooting from the free-throw line on Cremo's part. He went 7 for 8 from the line and finished the first half with 14 points as Scotia led, 29-26.
The Crusaders, with their normal starting five out to open the third quarter, seized control. Reed had seven points during a 9-0 blitz that saw Canisius move ahead 35-31. Reed scored 12 points in the quarter before picking up his fourth foul and taking a seat for a bit. But his contributions gave the Crusaders a 44-39 edge entering the final quarter. Trueheart added eight points in the fourth quarter but missed two free throws that almost came back to haunt Canisius.
The misses and all the other drama didn't though, as the Crusaders persevered to earn a chance at winning their first Federation title. The last time Canisius played in a Federation final, it lost in Class C to the former Buffalo Traditional in 2001 during coach Husband's playing days.
Nichols is the last boys team to win a Federation title, taking the Class A crown in 2010. Niagara Falls won the Class AA championship in 2005.