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 News’ No. 1-ranked large school dominated, 68-40. Park and Bishop Timon-St. Jude played in the other semifinal at Villa Maria College, but that game did not end in time for this edition.
“I just think we had more focus on both ends of the floor and it stayed continuous throughout the entire game, especially on the defensive end,” Canisius coach Kyle Husband said. “When we come and guard like that and hold teams to where we want to hold them, we’re really tough to beat.”
The Crusaders (23-2) boast a front line of 6-foot-7 seniors Stafford Trueheart, Madut Ayiy and Charles Hart who impact the game on both ends of the floor. Throw in a handful of guards who stand 6 feet or taller, and no Western New York school has been able to figure out how to beat them the past two years.
Trueheart (15 points, eight rebounds, two blocks), Ayiy (14 points, 10 rebounds, seven blocks) and Hart (four points, two blocks) filled up the stat sheet and helped force eight steals. No basket came easy for the Red Raiders.
“It’s certainly our backbone,” 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. 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.
“We try to go inside to the post first and use our strength and our bigs,” said Atkinson, who scored a game-high 17 points and knocked down all four Canisius three-pointers. “And then if it’s not there we kick it back out and look for the shot.”
Sean Taggart and Roburt Welch led St. Francis (11-15) with 14 and 10 points, respectively.
Canisius will be going for its second straight Manhattan Cup and fifth in the last six years on Sunday in the Class A final, which will be back at Villa Maria. The game is scheduled to start at 4 p.m. after Niagara Catholic and Nichols square off in the Class B championship at 2 p.m. The winners will earn a spot in the state Catholic playoffs.
“I think both teams are going to present their own challenges for us,” Husband said. “They’re both really talented and, obviously, we’re looking forward to the challenge on Sunday.”