The faces may have changed somewhat but the one thing defending state Federation Class A champion Canisius still does really well is bring the heat on defense.
It’s the Crusaders’ calling card. Their pressure and intensity caught another team off guard Saturday night, a Williamsville South crew that usually does not have any problems setting the pace against whatever defense an opponent may throw its way.
Canisius overcame an early 16-10 deficit to overwhelm the Billies, 66-50, before a sellout crowd estimated at 1,200 at Depew High School during the final game of the three-day ADPRO Public/Private Schools Challenge.
Seniors Stafford Trueheart (24 points, eight rebounds), Madut Ayiy (14 points, 10 rebounds, three steals) and Will Atkinson (13 points) each scored in double-figures for the unbeaten Crusaders (4-0), the News’ No. 1-ranked large school.
Canisius’ defense gave the usually sure-handed Billies (4-1), ranked No. 5 among large schools, loads of trouble as they turned it over 19 times and never really looked in sync after a first quarter in which they drained four three-pointers.
“Those second and third quarters we really guarded and played at a high level at that end of the court, and like we always say that’s where it starts for us,” Canisius coach Kyle Husband said.
“I thought we were bad on offense for most of the game,” South coach Gabe Michael said. “We let their pressure get to us, which I thought would never happen. We have to be able to push the ball against a team like that.”
The 6-foot-7 Trueheart, a returning first-team All-Western New York selection, also gives teams problems and once again proved quite difficult to contain.
That was especially true with South missing tough inside 6-5 defender Matt Foster, who will miss time early in the season with a foot injury.
Trueheart scored nine of his game-high point total during the second quarter. He scored the first five of the period via a baseline jumper and a traditional three-point play as Canisius pulled within 16-15 early in the quarter. He scored on back-to-back layups in a 15-second span to give Canisius the lead for good and the Crusaders led, 29-25, at halftime.
Williamsville South, the reigning Section VI Class A champion, had trouble scoring but played its usual scrappy game and managed to pull within 31-30 on a layup by Greg Dolan (18 points).
But Atkinson scored six points on a pair of threes to spark a 10-0 run that enabled Canisius to pull away for good.
“Our length really does create problems for other teams,” said Husband, whose regular lineup also includes 6-7 Ayiy, 6-3 Atkinson and 6-3 Colby Moultrie.
“We’re 4-0 and we’ve played four really good teams. We have a long way to go. I wasn’t really sure how we’d come out with so many new faces but I’m really happy with how they’ve responded and how they’ve played together.”
Canisius’ win means the private schools won seven out of the 11 scheduled games during this annual tournament.