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Niagara Falls follows the script, captures Section VI Class AA hoops title

On a thrilling day of boys' basketball in which fans at Buffalo State witnessed a buzzer-beating victory, a No. 1 seed and two-time defending champion go down in stunning fashion and another program win a Section VI title for the first time ever – Niagara Falls did what it tends to do on Championship Saturday.

The Wolverines closed out an electric show with a championship coronation, although they did it this season as a slight underdog.

No. 5 Niagara Falls defeated second-seeded Lancaster, 61-56, in Class AA before an estimated crowd of more than 2,000 to cap a five-game slate of Section VI finals.

The winners' Tazaun Rose (five assists and four steals) scored a game-high 16 points as nine different players scored for the Wolverines, whose trademark defense swung the momentum in their favor when the game hung in the balance in the second half.

"I'm excited for these guys," coach Sal Constantino said after guiding the program to its 11th sectional championship and third in six years. "It's hard to play at Niagara Falls. There's so much pressure. Everybody thinks every year this is a given so I give those guys a lot of credit."

Niagara Falls made 16 steals, forcing more than 20 turnovers to advance to next Saturday's Far West Regional contest in the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association Tournament for the second straight season.

The Wolverines will face the Section V champion at 9 p.m. at Rush-Henrietta High School.

They got there by letting their defense fuel their offense.

With the game tied 34-34 after a pair of Alec Tamburri (14 points) free throws with 4 minutes, 18 seconds left in the third quarter, Falls seized the lead for keeps on a three-pointer by Rose. He followed that with a steal that eventually led to a Tyler Sanders basket. Charles Lamar followed that with a steal and finished off the transition break by throwing down a one-handed jam off an alley-oop pass from Sanders.

That's eight points in 24 seconds by the Wolverines (15-8).

While some feel the dunk provided energy since it did get a rise out of the fans, that's not necessarily how it works with Niagara Falls.

"A dunk is always a big energy play," Constantino said, "but again what gets us to that dunk? The steals, the defense and stuff, to me I think that's the energy. When we turn somebody over everybody just gets so excited about it."

Lancaster (15-8), which shared the ECIC I championship – losing a coin flip to be the No. 1 seed – and reached the final even though it graduated last year's starting five, still had a chance late to win its first sectional title since 1959.

The Legends pulled within 50-48 on a pair of free throws by Connor Duck (11 points). They missed a golden chance to tie in transition when a player came up short on an open layup.

They inched closer on a free throw by senior Noah Speyer, but senior Cortese Myles converted a driving layup seconds later with 2:15 left to make it 52-49. Rose followed with a steal and a free throw 10 seconds later.

With Falls defending a three-point lead, Myles knocked the ball out of the hands of a Lancaster player behind the arc. Jamel Burton collected it and fed it to Myles for the layup with 82 seconds left.

Cortese Myles goes to the basket for two of his 10 points for Niagara Falls during a win over Lancaster. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

"We left it on the court," Legends coach John Otto said. "Most people didn't expect us to be here (when the season started). … We were five points away."

Rose's layup with under a minute left all but sealed the deal for the Wolverines.

Josiah Harris also finished with four steals for Falls, which has quietly won seven in a row since a late January home loss to Lockport.

"A lot of people doubted us," said Myles, who finished with 10 points and four steals. "It's just confidence. … We just stuck with our plan. Just play defense. If we win on defense, we'll win on offense."

The Wolverines have the championship to prove it – again.

"I'm really happy for this group because I'd never ignore the heritage of what Niagara Falls basketball has been, but … what Jonny Flynn and Paul Harris did that was their accomplishments," Constantino said. "Tonight is about these guys. I'm really happy and proud for these guys."

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