The Niagara Falls Wolverines have finally come of age, and they have the Section VI boys basketball Class AA championship to prove it.
Niagara Falls ended Jamestown’s three-year reign as Section VI champions Saturday night by strategically taking out its opponent’s top offensive weapon and receiving clutch scoring from Qeyion Williams and Breon Harris en route to the 58-44 triumph over the Red Raiders before an estimated 2,000 at the Buffalo State Sports Arena.
The title is Niagara Falls’ first since 2012 as it will return to action in the Far West Regional to face the champion from Section V at 8:30 p.m. Saturday at Buffalo State Sports Arena.
The win also avenged a title-game defeat last year at the hands of the Red Raiders (17-6) as the Wolverines (18-5) learned a valuable lesson from that experience that they applied to Saturday.
“We learned we can’t come out scared or nervous,” said Harris, who had 11 points. “We had to come out with energy. … It feels great to win.”
“It feels great because last year we weren’t as confident coming into the game as this year,” said Williams, who scored a team-high 19 points. “This year we knew we had a better team.”
With a brilliant game plan.
Falls took out Jamestown star James Rojas by getting him into foul trouble early. The 6-foot-4 junior came in averaging around 23 points per game as the focal point in the Red Raiders’ offense.
The Wolverines also have solid post players and they used Syquan Ralands, Charles Lamar, Tyler Sanders and Devin Sanders to throw Rojas off his game.
It worked as they took turns face-guarding him on defense and attacking the basket while on offense.
“I know coming into the game the concern was could we guard Rojas,” Wolverines coach Sal Constantino said. “We thought we were going to make him work. We thought he was their only post player. So we wanted to go at him early. I thought all of our post players did a nice job.”
That they did as Rojas was a spectator for most of the second quarter with three fouls and also for key moments of the third after picking up his fourth as Jamestown coach Ben Drake did his best to keep Rojas from fouling out. But in doing so, Falls was able to push ahead and build a comfortable cushion.
Rojas scored a game-high 21, but 11 came in the fourth quarter after Falls had built a 41-30 lead through 24 minutes.
The fourth foul early in the third quarter hurt the most. Jamestown pulled within 26-23 as Rojas scored via a floater from the baseline but he picked up the critical foul with 6:48 left in the period. Drake also picked up a technical for protesting the call.
The Wolverines took off after that with Williams and Harris each scoring two points during a 7-0 blitz in which Ralands added three points.
“Our offense runs through him,” Drake said. “I thought our guys did a good job in the second quarter keeping us in it.” (His fourth foul) “hurt us for sure.
”They were the better team. They played hard and took us out of our offensive stuff.”
Unlike the Class A-1 and A-2 finals, which proved to be an offense lovers’ delight, the Falls-Jamestown showdown was expected to be a grind-it-out affair.
It was, but Falls surged ahead, 14-7, as Williams had six points with Harris and Jhamir Isom adding key three-pointers.
Last year, Falls blinked in the big moment. The Wolverines embraced it this year.
“These kids paid their dues as freshmen and sophomores,” said Constantino of the youth moment used to build the current team three years ago. “I’m so happy. They’ve earned this moment.”