Kyle Husband said he didn’t remember what he said behind closed doors in the locker room at halftime. One can safely assume, though, the Canisius High School basketball coach mixed in plenty of encouraging words with his attention-getting message after a 16-minute stretch in which the Crusaders seemed slightly off.
Whatever Husband said, the News’ No. 1 Large School team heard it loud and clear as Canisius turned a close game into a rout in a blink of an eye to clinch its seventh straight Monsignor Martin Association regular-season championship.
The Crusaders (20-2, 11-0) used a dominant third-quarter performance to pull away from St. Joe’s, 73-56, Monday to secure the top seed for the Manhattan Cup Class A playoffs, which begin for the Crusaders on Feb. 26 at Villa Maria College.
A sellout crowd at St. Joe’s, which had just enjoyed a first half in which the home team played with more spunk and energy than its highly favored rival, watched as Canisius turned a 33-29 halftime lead into 55-36 advantage by the end of the third quarter.
Part of the third-quarter uprising had to do with Canisius’ senior star Stafford Trueheart being able to attack the basket full throttle after taking a seat with two quick fouls during a scoreless first half.
The other part: the Crusaders were determined not to lose to their rival for the first time since Jan. 27, 2012.
“We came out and underestimated them,” said Crusaders senior Madut Ayiy, who scored 12 of his game-high 19 points during a first half, and also grabbed 10 rebounds. “We ended up doing that. They gave us a better game than we expected. Then we played (well) as a team. … We needed to work harder if we wanted to win so we did that and ended up beating them by more.”
“We came out with a certain different focus in the third quarter and that showed,” said Husband, whose teams have now won 10 in row against St. Joe’s.
The Marauders (9-13, 4-7) came out determined not to be blown out like they were during the teams’ first meeting of the season, when Canisius won on its home court, 85-49.
Caleb Cockrell (nine points) and Naseer Jackson combined for 17 first-half points, with Cockrell scoring all of his points to help trim a 10-point deficit to four by intermission.
Ayiy’s calming presence during the first half helped keep Canisius in front as did the play of reserves Jayce Johnson (five points), Charles Hart and Jerimiah Wagstaff. They combined for 10 points to fill the void left by Trueheart. Johnson scored the Crusaders’ final two baskets of the first quarter to give them a 17-15 lead after eight minutes.
Trueheart (eight rebounds, six assists) still made his presence felt as he scored 11 of his 15 points during the third quarter blitz. He scored the Crusaders’ first basket of the quarter and added seven straight points later in the frame, including a three-pointer and putback that made it 51-31.
“He just had so much energy in the third quarter,” Husband said. “When he plays like that … he’s just unstoppable.”
So, too, are the Crusaders.
“We have to find a way to play 32 minutes and we haven’t done that yet this year,” Marauders coach Mark Simon said. “The third quarter we didn’t compete.”
Nick Motley and Grant Beyer each scored 11 points to lead St. Joe’s.