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Canisius, Park win MMA semis, will meet for third time

It’s no secret that Canisius’ size and length is what separates its boys basketball team from the rest in the area. What still remains a secret is how the heck opposing teams are supposed to stop it.

St. Francis was just the next victim of Canisius on Friday in the Monsignor Martin Class A semifinals as the Crusaders dominated, 68-40. The Park School topped Bishop Timon-St. Jude in the other semifinal at Villa Maria College, 64-55.

That sets up yet another meeting between top-seeded Canisius (23-2) and No. 2 Park (20-3), the News’ top two large schools all season, in Sunday’s final at Villa Maria at 4 p.m. The winner will earn a spot in the state Catholic playoffs.

The Crusaders’ front line of 6-foot-7 seniors Stafford Trueheart (15 points, eight rebounds, two blocks), Madut Ayiy (14 points, 10 rebounds, seven blocks) and Charles Hart (four points, two blocks) impacted the game on both ends of the floor Friday.

“It’s certainly our backbone,” Canisius coach Kyle Husband said. “It’s tough for guys to get to the rim against us. Our guards are old, strong and they’re physical, and it just carries through. Everyone that plays has got that attitude and that maturity.”

The consistent pounding of the ball inside only opened up the perimeter for Justin Jones (14 points) and sharpshooter Will Atkinson (17 points, four three-pointers). The two seniors were very efficient in helping the Crusaders build a 31-17 halftime lead and shoot an outstanding 64 percent from the field.

Sean Taggart and Roburt Welch led St. Francis (11-15) with 14 and 10 points, respectively.

Park’s Jordan Nwora racked up 28 points and grabbed 12 rebounds while Joe Jones scored 14 to lead the Pioneers. Nine points from Nwora in the first quarter helped get his team out to a 13-3 lead that dwindled to 19-17 at the break. Another 10 in the third from Nwora extended Park’s lead to 37-26 after three quarters of play.

A resilient Timon squad pushed hard over the final eight minutes but never got closer than nine points. The Tigers (13-10) were led by Quinton Lamar’s 17 points and Joe Harrison’s 15.

The Pioneers, boasting a front court trio of 6-foot-6 Nwora, 6-foot-8 Jones and 7-footer Chris Efretuei, are about the only other team that can match up with Canisius on paper.

Despite losing twice to the blue and gold this season, 56-53 on Jan. 23 and 45-37 Feb. 3, Park coach Mike Battaglia knows his team can compete with the Crusaders.

Can Park win Sunday? Yes. But will it win? That remains to be seen. It would be a feat no Western New York school has been able to accomplish over the past two seasons.

“I know we’ll be ready to play. I know we’ll be ready to play,” Battaglia reiterated. Then he shrugged. “If they beat us again, then, yeah, they’re better. This is the game that says we’re better.”